*** For the video version of this, tune into my YouTube Channel under “Sleep: Part 9” at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCctUAXFFEJAqe8zhlzpulAg ***
Fine, I’ll admit it.
Once we all went into quarantine and the responsibility of educating our young children fell upon me, I fell into a cozy little rhythm of rewarding myself for a day long of playing teacher with a nice generous glass of wine.
After a week or two of this, a couple of things happened. For starters, I was given the assignment of delivering weekly coaches talks to our CFNE community on the importance of sleep. Consequently, as a result of all of the research I was doing on sleep, I started recognizing how poor the quality of my sleep was.
I was totally fine falling asleep, but I would start waking up regularly around 2pm, take at least 45-60 minutes to fall back asleep, and continue repeating that cycle for the rest of the night.
My newfound appreciation for just how important sleep is to, basically, every single bodily function motivated me to try a little experiment: I decided to stop drinking any alcohol to see if I could improve the quality of my sleep. To no surprise at all, I started sleeping like a baby. While I would still wake up around 2am to go to the bathroom, I no longer had any trouble falling back asleep. And, I was only waking up once a night, versus many times a night.
A week later, I decided to have 2 glasses of wine that afternoon to see what would happen. Sure enough, I spent the night waking up constantly and laying there for hours trying to fall back asleep. On top of that, I ended up having the craziest, most vivid dreams that left me feeling exhausted and stressed out the next morning.
After that, I took another week off. And, that week, I fell back into my newfound awesome sleep patterns. The following Sunday, however, I decided to have a couple glasses of wine that afternoon. That night, same sleep issues as the last time I drank: very disrupted sleep all night and crazy weird dreams.
Here’s what I’ve found happens when you drink. The alcohol acts like a sedative by knocking you out and making the onset of sleep super easy. But, that “sleep” isn’t naturalistic in that it’s giving you the impression of sleeping well. In fact, it’s more like being on anesthesia: you are unconscious, but not receiving the regular benefits of sleep.
The other thing that’s dangerous about the effects of alcohol on the quality of your sleep has to do with your REM sleep phase. REM sleep is a very important part of the sleep cycle, for many reasons. The way I understand it is if deep, slow wave sleep (or, non-REM sleep) is when the physical body recovers and recharges (think organs, muscle tissue, etc.), REM sleep is when the brain and mind processes and recharges. Both stages are absolutely critical to your nightly recovery.
REM sleep is also when you dream. But, alcohol is understood as the single biggest blocker of REM sleep. So, throughout the night as your body finally works through the alcohol in your system, your brain tries to rebound and catch up on some of the REM sleep that it lost. But, it simultaneously is also trying to keep cashing in on all of the REM sleep that it’s supposed to be getting at that later point in the night. It’s, essentially, this overload dump of dreams on your brain all at once, making dreams more intense and vivid. All of this leaves you waking up the next morning feeling massively exhausted and unrefreshed.
So, I’ve decided to put my health first. I’ve decided that, at least in regards to the daily cocktail I was getting all too used to, I’m out. I am now sold on the fact that sleep isn’t just an optional activity, or a thing to laugh off thinking, “I can sleep when I die.”
We bang up our bodies so hard during the day. We spend all of this time reading, not realizing that sleep is when our brains hit the “Save” button on any information we learned that day, any skills we practiced, and any memories we want to retain. And, many of us geek out all day on our training and calculating every gram of food and drink we put into our bodies only to let loose on alcohol later that piles on empty calories AND keeps us tossing and turning all night while we watch the clock tick away.
Listen, I’m not going to feel guilty about having a couple of drinks on a special occasion…even if it ends up being once a week, especially in the summer time 😉 But, I am settling in with the understanding that if I am willing to pass on the alcohol, I am then free to put some creamer in my evening tea, have some homemade popcorn with the kids, or eat a some tortilla chips while we unwind after dinner. No small amount of cheat snacks is as bad as the effects of alcohol on my body and my sleep that night.
But, don’t take my word for it because we all know that’s not a very convincing selling point. Try it for yourself. Take a week to drink tea every night instead a glass of wine, eat a little ice cream instead of a bottle of beer, or do something really psychotic and just abstain from alcohol with no substitutions. See what happens.
Oh, and let me know 😉