It’s no secret that going to bed inebriated can negatively affect your sleep.
Studies have shown that excessive drinking may play a role in inhibiting REM sleep, disrupting circadian rhythms, and making you need to use the restroom more often throughout the night (which translates to waking up more frequently and further diminishes sleep quality).
That’s true for those times when people hit the sheets drunk, but what about after having just one or two drinks? A simple nightcap couldn’t possibly stop you from getting a restful night’s sleep, right?
According to a new study, one drink is all it takes.
[Editor’s Note: The content provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. Any information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We encourage you to consult with the appropriate health expert if you have concerns.]
Measuring Alcohol’s Effect On Sleep
The study, which was published in the journal JMIR Mental Health, measured the alcohol consumption and sleep patterns of 4,098 Finnish employees. Unlike the participants in many studies before this one, the sample was “free-living” — meaning the participants would report their alcohol intake, rather than alcohol being specifically administered by researchers.
The sample set consisted of men and women ages 18 to 65, who together represented a variety of body types and exercise routines.
In the study, participants used machines to measure their Heart Rate Variability (HRV) during the first three hours of sleep. According to Harvard Medical School, HRV is “a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat.”
Heart Rate Variability is controlled by the autonomous nervous system, which includes the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is in charge of our flight-or-fight response, while the parasympathetic nervous system dictates our rest and recovery.
A higher HRV during sleep suggests the parasympathetic nervous system is working well, so the subject is actually recovering and getting a truly restful sleep.
How Alcohol Consumption Impacts HRV
The participants’s HRV was measured after a night of drinking alcohol and after a night without drinking. The results suggested the following:
- Subjects who drank a low amount of alcohol lowered their HRV-derived recovery state by 9.3 percent.
- Those who drank a moderate amount lowered it by 24 percent.
- Those who drank a high amount of alcohol lowered their recovery by 39.2 percent. (According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a high amount of alcohol means two drinks for women daily and three for men.)
Here’s what that means in layperson’s terms: Even those subjects who drank only a small amount of alcohol experienced alterations in their parasympathetic nervous system. Just one drink lowered subjects’ Heart Rate Variability and disrupted their rest and recovery.
The sample set was quite large and consisted of a variety of subjects: men and women, young and old, active and inactive.
The study’s co-author, Tero Myllymäki of the University of Jyväskylä, told Firstbeat, “The evidence shows that despite being young and active, you’re still susceptible to the negative effects of alcohol on recovery when you are asleep.”
Bottom line? No matter who you are or how you spend your time, even one alcoholic drink may affect your rest.
Featured image: KieferPix/Shutterstock
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