Many of us may be tempted to unwind with a glass of wine, but numerous studies suggest alcohol before bed is a sure-fire way to disturb your precious slumber. Adding to that body of research is a new study that suggests, once again, that you might want to nix that nightcap.
In the study, published online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers monitored the brain waves of 24 college students as they slept after drinking alcohol and after only drinking a placebo. As expected after drinking alcohol, which does seem to make it easier for many to drift off to dreamland, the students showed more slow wave sleep. But they also showed an increase in what's called frontal alpha power, which doesn't happen during normal sleep, Time reported, and is thought to be a sign of disturbed sleep.
"Similar increases in alpha-delta activity, which are associated with poor or unrefreshing sleep and daytime function, have been observed in individuals with chronic pain conditions," study co-author Christian L. Nicholas, a sleep researcher at the University of Melbourne, said in a statement. "Thus, if sleep is being disrupted regularly by pre-sleep alcohol consumption, particularly over long periods of time, this could have significant detrimental effects on daytime wellbeing and neurocognitive function such as learning and memory processes."
Previous research linked these brain patterns during sleep to daytime drowsiness, headaches and irritability, Time reported, and it's within reason to think similar symptoms might occur among people who toss back a nightcap before bed. Recent research from the University of Missouri found that alcohol may disrupt sleep by throwing off the body's balance of fatigue and wakefulness, known as sleep homeostasis.
"The take-home message here is that alcohol is not actually a particularly good sleep aid even though it may seem like it helps you get to sleep quicker," Nicholas said of the new study. "In fact, the quality of the sleep you get is significantly altered and disrupted."