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Winter 2017 Edition

Why Drinking Alcohol To Induce Sleep Is A Problem

Many people use alcohol to help them fall asleep. But the latest research reports that – while alcohol can help you fall asleep faster – its negative impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep far outweighs its sleep-inducing effects. Plus, regular use of alcohol as a sleep aid may result in a dependency on alcohol.

How alcohol reduces the quality of your sleep

According to researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, drinking alcohol to fall asleep interferes with sleep homeostasis, the body's sleep-regulating mechanism. It reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep when you dream and an important phase of restorative sleep. Alcohol may seem to be helping you sleep – as it helps induce sleep – but the result is lighter, lower-quality sleep, interrupted by frequent awakenings which lead to a poorer night's rest.

How alcohol affects sleep apnea

Those suffering from sleep apnea should be extremely careful when mixing alcohol and sleep. Sleep apnea is a condition caused by obstructions in the airway that makes it difficult to breathe effectively while sleeping. Alcohol intensifies this problem by causing the airways to narrow even further and making it even harder for the person to get the quality of sleep they need. Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that men, especially, have longer episodes of sleep-disordered breathing after drinking alcohol.

Use of alcohol and dependency

Using alcohol on a regular basis to change your mood, relax or help you fall asleep is a dangerous choice that can lead to dependence. One of the symptoms of alcohol dependence is the need to drink increasingly more to feel the same result. Health experts recommend that regular use of alcohol as a sleep aid may result in a dependency on alcohol and that alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid.

Why a chronic lack of sleep is bad for you

According to the latest research, the consequences of too little sleep are more than just daytime fatigue, a bad mood or a lack of focus. Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it can shorten your life expectancy. British researchers who studied how sleep patterns affected the mortality of more than 10,000 British civil servants over two decades found that those who cut their sleep from seven to five hours or fewer a night nearly doubled their risk of death from all causes. In particular, lack of sleep doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Better sleep habits

If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, the following are tips to help you improve the quality of your sleep:

1. Exercise regularly – Exercise dissipates stress and exercised muscles relax more easily, which will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Initially, however, exercise does stimulate the body, so try finishing exercising at least three hours before bedtime or workout earlier in the day.

2.Avoid stimulants – Caffeine can keep you going long after you drink it. It is best to cut it out of your day by 2 p.m. Avoid alcohol or nicotine within three hours of bedtime. Additionally, avoid eating large or spicy meals for two or three hours before bedtime. Your body isn't meant to be digesting food while you sleep.

3. Set regular hours –Keep a consistent sleep/wake schedule, even on weekends. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body's "internal clock" to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Staying up and sleeping in later than normal on weekends can shift your body's natural clock in the same way that cross-country travel does and make it extra difficult to fall asleep on Sunday nights.

4. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine –Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode. About an hour before bed, calm your body and mind with a relaxing pre-sleep routine. Unplug from all electronic devices and avoid any stressful or stimulating activities. Take a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), read a book, watch TV, or practice relaxation exercises.

5. Manage stress –When you have too much to do – and too much to think about – your sleep is likely to suffer. If you find your mind racing in bed, instead work through your thoughts about the day – or the next day – before getting into bed. Take some time in the evening to process your thoughts about the day. Clear your head of tomorrow's tasks by writing your plan or "to do" list for the next day and leaving it for the morning.

6. Create a relaxing sleep environment – Reserve your bedroom for sleeping and sex only. Your bedroom should be cool, free from noise that can disturb sleep and free from any light. The Better Sleep Foundation suggests to consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers or other devices to reduce distractions that may interfere with sleep.

If you need help

If you try the suggestions above and find that you still are having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, talk to your doctor or a sleep medicine physician to determine what factors are keeping you from sleeping. You can also contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for confidential counseling, referrals or information. Your EAP is available to you or your dependents to help you with most-any personal, family or work-related issue.


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Disclaimer: This newsletter is not intended to provide medical advice on personal wellness matters. Please consult your physician for medical advice.