If you’re in need of a good night’s sleep, skip the nightcap. A team of researchers at the London Sleep Centre reviewed studies on the effects of alcohol on sleep and concluded that alcohol interrupts natural sleep cycles.
The review is published in the April edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
According to the research team, although even a couple of drinks before bed reduces the amount of time it takes to nod off and fall into a deep sleep, alcohol disrupts rapid-eye movement sleep—the deep, restorative sleep when dreams occur—and causes sleep apnea and breathing disorders.
Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, told the BBC, “Alcohol on the whole is not useful for improving a whole night’s sleep. Sleep may be deeper to start with, but then becomes disrupted. Additionally, that deeper sleep will probably promote snoring and poorer breathing. So, one shouldn’t expect better sleep with alcohol.”
That’s because, according to Irshaad Ebrahim, medical director at the London Sleep Centre and co-author of the review, “Alcohol acts like medications that are used for depression and anxiety. …Alcohol acts like anti-depressants, reducing REM sleep particularly in the first part of the night. This impact of alcohol on REM sleep may explain the mood elevation and anxiety reduction associated with alcohol use.”
Ebrahim warns against drinking before bed.
“One or two glasses might be nice in the short term, but if you continue to use a tipple before bedtime it can cause significant problems,” he says. “If you do have a drink, it’s best to leave an hour and a half to two hours before going to bed so the alcohol is already wearing off.”