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with Michael Breus, PhD, ABSM

This blog has now been retired. We appreciate all of the insights that Dr. Breus has provided to the WebMD community.


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Monday, December 5, 2005

Hangovers – Drinking and Sleep

Last night I went to a wine tasting party. It was quite fun, and I enjoyed sampling the wine. The theme was the new release of the wine spectators list of the top wines. I then went and checked out a wine blog to learn more. Upon awakening the quality of my sleep, even from the small amount of alcohol, was not all that great (AKA the Hangover). It reminded me that alcohol affects sleep in ways that we should all be aware of this holiday season.

We know from the research that alcohol tends to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, increase the amounts of the early stages of sleep and reduce REM (sleep, not the band) in the first hours after ingestion. This is one reason many people may use alcohol to help them fall asleep.

Conversely, we see that alcohol affects your quality of sleep. There are several things that happen to the body once asleep after drinking:

  • Alcohol inhibits glutamine, one of the body’s natural stimulants. When the drinker stops drinking, the body tries to make up for lost time by producing more glutamine than it needs stimulating the brain.
  • This brain stimulation will keep you in the light stages of sleep not the deep refreshing sleep, which likely causes the fatigue felt with a hangover. Severe glutamine rebound during a hangover also may be responsible for tremors, anxiety, restlessness and increased blood pressure.
  • Alcohol is metabolized at the rate of approximately one glass of wine or one-half pint of beer per hour. Therefore, after four to five drinks in the hours before bedtime, alcohol concentrations in blood approach zero approximately halfway through the night.
  • Withdrawal tends to occur in the last half of the night and produces shallow, disrupted sleep, increases REM sleep, increases dream or nightmare recall, and sympathetic arousal, including tachycardia and sweating.

A few other interesting facts:

  1. Drinking during happy hour may disrupt sleep during the last half of the night
  2. The sleep inducing effects of alcohol appear to be greater in those with sleep deprivation
  3. There is no data yet to suggest whether or not a “nightcap” is helpful or harmful in those who drink every night, however the above evidence would lead one to believe it can’t be a great thing.

Related Topics: Strategies for a Hangover-Free Holiday Season, Anatomy of a Hangover

Posted by: Michael Breus, PhD, ABSM at 2:08 pm

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