Are you surprised by the title of this article? Most people probably are. After all, isn’t alcohol a depressant, and doesn’t it lead to drowsiness? Aren’t there countless examples of anecdotal evidence of a drink of wine before bed leading to a good night of sleep? Maybe so, but the thing is anecdotal evidence doesn’t constitute scientific proof.
Anecdotal vs Scientific Evidence
The basis of science is observation of what happens in nature. ‘Anecdotal’ evidence refers to evidence based on personal experiences, which would seem to fit into the scientific model. You do something, observe the results and form conclusions. The difference between anecdotal evidence and true scientific evidence, however, is that scientific evidence has to be measurable, testable and repeatable.
Anecdotally, you may have had a few experiences where you had a beer or glass of wine before bed and seemed to get a good night of sleep afterwards. However, you have no way of knowing for sure that you experienced better sleep than usual, and no specific reason to link the two events together.
What Science Says about Alcohol and Sleep
Yes, alcohol is a depressant, and in certain quantities it can cause temporary drowsiness that may help you to fall asleep more quickly at first. The problem is that there are a number of side effects of alcohol that disrupt sleep.
Alcohol in the blood stream, especially in higher quantities, contributes to snoring. Snoring isn’t only disruptive for your spouse, but often can awaken the snorer as well. And even while you’re asleep your sleep is likely to be of poorer quality.
Alcohol also hinders our ability to enter the deep stages of sleep where the majority of the restorative benefits occur. This is probably the biggest negative impact on sleep.
Another side effect of alcohol is that people tend to wake up more frequently throughout the night. This is because of the poorer quality of sleep as well as the increased need to urinate during the night. Obviously it isn’t much help to fall asleep quickly if the total amount of time you spend asleep during the night is reduced.
Even though a single drink in the evening isn’t going to bring on a full-blown hangover for most people you may still experience some of the hangover symptoms to a lesser degree, such as dehydration and a headache, as well as grogginess the next morning. All of these contribute to a pre-mature awakening in the morning.
Now, I want to make it clear I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t have a drink in the evening if you want. A single glass of wine in the evening is not going to ruin your night or the next day. You probably know that from experience. The only point I’m trying to make is that alcohol doesn’t help you to get a better night of sleep. If you are making the choice to drink at night, don’t choose it for it’s sleeping benefits, because there aren’t any.