The possibility of feeling rough after a long night of heavy drinking won’t be a surprise to anyone. But one of the reasons you feel so terrible in the morning might actually be because of the negative effects alcohol can have on sleep quality. And who has the time to lie in bed feeling sorry for themselves?
But before we get into how you can play hard and recover fast, let’s establish the how and why of alcohol’s effects on sleep...
How does alcohol affect sleep?
When you’ve been drinking, your body will produce more adenosine (a chemical in the brain that helps you fall asleep), which makes you fall asleep pretty quickly - this is one of the main reasons a lot of people believe that alcohol actually makes them sleep better. But sadly, it disappears just as quickly as it comes, increasing your chances of waking up before you’re fully ready to.
Alcohol also decreases the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep that you get during the first half of the night. So while that may mean that you sleep like a log for a couple hours, your body will overcompensate later on. Scientists call this the “rebound effect.” So even though the amount of REM sleep you get overall will be the same as usual, you’ll have it all at the wrong time. And because you’ll be spending more time in this light REM sleep instead of that great, peaceful deep sleep we’re always talking about, your body will be more sensitive to environmental factors like light, sound and temperature during the second half of the night, increasing the likelihood that you’ll toss, turn and wake up more often.
So how can you get a better night’s sleep?
So you’re probably not going to get the best night’s sleep of your life when you’re drunk, but there are some things you can do to improve the sleep you do have.
Set up your sleeping environment
Chances are, you won’t be in the mood to tidy your bedroom and make it the ideal sleep space after a few drinks. So before you head out for the evening, set up your sleeping environment.
Calm, uncluttered rooms are great for encouraging peaceful sleep, so be sure to put away any clothes, makeup or toiletries that you might have left out on your bed while you were getting ready. It’ll make your bed look all the more inviting when you get home, and you’ll thank yourself for it later when you don’t have to clean at 3am.
Draw your curtains before you leave as well. Again, it’ll make your room feel more inviting and ready for sleep when you get home, but it’ll also help protect you from being woken up by any light creeping in through your windows when you’re in REM sleep.
Setting your central heating to around 18°C can also help. Your house will be warm enough to be comfortable, without running the risk of getting too hot once you’re in bed.
And sure we might seem biased, but the mattress you’re sleeping on can have a huge impact on how well you’re able to sleep. If you find that you often wake up throughout the night, or you have aches and pains in the morning, this can all be down to an unsupportive, uncomfortable mattress - not something that’s going to help you get quality rest when you’ve had a few.
Before you start drinking, make sure you eat something - but don’t just eat anything (no matter how tempting the greasy takeaway down the road might be).
Having a solid, balanced meal with plenty of protein, carbs and some fat will help your body regulate how it absorbs alcohol and introduce it to your bloodstream gradually so that it can be processed without your body overworking itself.
You probably already know that your hangover is caused by dehydration - but your lack of sleep could be too.
Alcohol is a diuretic, so the more of it you drink, the more you’re dehydrating yourself, and the more likely you are to give you a headache and make you feel hot, dizzy and uncomfortable when you’re trying your best to get to sleep.
The best thing to do to prevent this is to make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the evening. Ideally, aim to alternate between drinks, so for every alcoholic drink you have, grab a glass of water to balance it out. And try to stay away from caffeine too!
Be sure to have a glass of water when you get home as well to get one last hit of hydration before bed, and keep a full glass on your nightstand in case you get thirsty during the night. You might even want to consider something like Dioralyte which helps replace the electrolytes and nutrients that you lose while drinking, without all the additional sugars that you get in energy drinks (side note: electrolyte drinks are great to have in the morning too).
One of the best things you can do to get a good night’s sleep is to allow yourself some time between drinking and going to bed - so stop drinking earlier (or stay up later). Ideally, give yourself around 4 hours (including the time it’ll take you to get home and ready for bed) between your last drink and going to sleep to allow your body time to metabolise as much alcohol as possible.
Turn off notifications
Whether you put your phone on silent, into airplane mode, or you turn it off altogether, make sure that you do something to prevent being woken up by notifications when you could be getting some decent sleep.
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