You’ve been rushing around all day, and the moment you get home you just want to relax, put your feet up and pour yourself a wine or a beer.
You deserve it right!?
But there’s a downside to alcohol not many people know about, and it’s not pretty.
Now I am not talking about the risk of becoming an alcoholic (although that’s always on the cards). I’m talking about those of us only having one or two glasses a night, and thinking we’re getting off scot-free because the evidence is daunting.
Not only are we increasing our risk for all kinds of health issues (including significantly raising the risk of cancer) we’re destroying our chances of a good night’s sleep and our performance suffers the next day.
Seriously, I wish it wasn’t true. I love my glass or two of red wine of an evening. But after researching ‘sleep’ for a sleep program I’m co-authoring with the amazing Michael Bunting for his app Awakened Mind, I realised my previously held views on alcohol were incorrect (although I admit my personal experience more than supported the evidence!).
Now, if you’re someone like me who needs ‘the science’ to give you a gentle nudge to change a few ‘unhealthy’ habits read on…
According to Matthew Walker (British scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California and sleep expert) ‘alcohol is a sleep stealer!’
People think it helps them get off to sleep and to sleep better. Both are untrue.
Alcohol is a sedative. It may sedate you out of wakefulness, but according to Walker it does not induce natural sleep and the sleep you get is not restorative.
Ever noticed how often you wake during the night after a few drinks? It’s not just because you need to rehydrate (although that’s a problem too). We wake more often once the effects of alcohol have worn off, although we are usually not aware of it.
Alcohol fragments your sleep by keeping you in a light sleep state. If you’re missing out on deep sleep the body cannot physically prepare itself for functioning optimally the next day.
Alcohol suppresses our REM (rapid eye movement sleep) commonly known as our dream sleep, by impairing memory processing, making it harder to stay on top of our game mentally, learn and remember things.
Alcohol is basically washing away what we’ve learnt – not only that day – but for days prior.
Poor sleep downgrades your pre-frontal cortex control (the smart part of your brain) and when that is taken offline so is self-control making you more likely to snap and lose your temper.
Your concentration suffers terribly when you haven’t had enough sleep, making you less productive and efficient at work.
Lack of sleep is even associated with unethical workplace behaviour and being less of a team player. When not sleep-deprived, people work faster, more effectively and more ethically.
While I am a big proponent of meditation to help access that calm relaxed space you need to drift off to sleep, when it comes to getting a better night’s sleep, it definitely pays to lay off the alcohol.
However, I’d just like to mention, if you’re trying to reduce your alcohol intake, the great thing about meditating is its cumulative ‘mindful’ effect.
As our ability to stay present for longer improves, we start wising up to how our drinking is getting in the way of a good night’s sleep (and quite possibly a lot else).
And with more awareness, we are more likely to make better choices about alcohol.
That doesn’t mean never drinking again – but perhaps – just not every night?