This is what drinking late at night does to your sleep patterns

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Unless you’re on holiday, most of your drinking is probably in the evening, right? We get it – but here’s what drinking late at night actually means for your sleep…

The problem

That post work G&T is great. Or the glass of wine (or two…) which turns into cocktails – and so on. Before you know it, you’re home boozed at 12pm and falling straight into bed.

When this happens to me, I initially pass out, but then sleep badly, wake up horribly thirsty in the morning and also wake up every few hours, meaning I feel rubbish the next day. And turns out, there’s a reason for this.

Here’s what’s happening

Tiina Hoffman is the Exercise Physiologist & Master Trainer at Firstbeat. “On average, our body processes a unit of alcohol every hour, so the closer you drink to going to sleep, the more units will be left in your system. Alcohol has the effect of raising your heart rate, encouraging the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to continue working, or actually suppressing the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) that usually occurs during sleep. This will reduce the restorative quality of sleep. In fact, for every unit of alcohol consumed, you lose about an hour’s worth of restorative sleep. So, while you may find yourself catching Zs for many hours after multiple glasses, you won’t be feeling the full benefits of sleep and will likely wake up in the morning feeling tired and unrested,” Tina says.

Clarissa Lenherr is a nutritionist. “Even if you hit the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep after an evening of drinking alcohol, you may still wake up feeling groggy and tired. This is because alcohol can block REM sleep, which is one of the most mentally restorative modes of sleep and important for our dreaming,” she says. “And the effect is cumulative, meaning the more you drink, the more pronounced the effects will be!”

But wine makes me sleepy…

Not for long though, right? “Although alcohol may make you feel drowsy, it can often cause people to wake throughout the night. This is because alcohol can impact the production and secretion of chemicals that trigger the cascade of effects in the body that trigger us to fall and stay asleep. Adenosine, a sleep inducing chemical is actually increased immediately upon drinking, but just as rapidly reduces as you fall asleep, triggering wake episodes throughout the night,” Clarissa says.

And no, you’re not alone: it will make you need to wee. “Drinking before bed can also lead to an increase in night-time bathroom trips. As alcohol is a diuretic, you can feel the need to go to the toilet more, which can impact your quality and quantity of sleep,” Clarissa says,

Top tips

Sadly, the earlier you stop drinking, the better. But can you have your wine and drink it too? When it comes to drinking late at night, sort of. Clarissa suggests, “aim to have your last alcoholic beverage two or three hours before you go to sleep to avoid impacting your quality of sleep.”

By Charlotte

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Charlotte is a London girl through and through. She sweats through spin and puffs through Pilates to justify trying the latest restaurants and devouring copious amounts of sweet potato fries, burrata and bread – preferably on holiday. Her favourite destinations include Italy, the Maldives and anywhere where the sun’s shining and there’s a strong breakfast buffet. She’s obsessed with walking, visiting farmers’ markets and reading. She’s also learning to cook. Wish her (and her husband) luck.

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