Discovery Fit & Health
After a night of drinking, you can't sleep as well as usual because your body is too busy rebounding from the effect of alcohol in your system. Alcohol inhibits the body's natural stimulant, glutamine. After the drinking stops, the body tries to compensate and rebound from its deficiency by overproducing glutamine. The increase in glutamine stimulates the brain, thus preventing you from attaining a deep, healing state of slumber. This contributes to the fatigue associated with a hangover. In severe cases, glutamine rebound also may contribute to other symptoms such as anxiety, high blood pressure, restlessness and tremors.
The type of "night of drinking" we just described relates more to people who may have overdone it. But what about the legions of people who, out of long habit, drink a "nightcap" before they go to bed? Such people are looking to take advantage of the feeling of drowsiness that hits soon after a drink is taken, in an effort to smooth their descent into a hopefully good night's sleep. It could be, though, that they are doing themselves a disservice, and the alcohol they think it helping them is actually hindering their chance at sleeping through the night. Is "one before bed" a problem more than it is a solution?
A study released in May of 2011 sought to tackle exactly this question, finding that the nightcap might not be all it's cracked up to be, especially for women. The research, performed at the University of Michigan, studied the effects of before-bedtime drinking, versus a placebo, on 93 subjects -- 34 men and 59 women. The results of the study showed women to lose more sleep than men -- costing the ladies 19 minutes of sleep time and a 4 percent reduction in sleep efficiency. They also took 15 percent longer to fall asleep. The men in the study, by contrast, showed very little change in their sleep patters -- placebo or stiff drink, the guys seemed to sleep about the same, which researchers suggest may be attributed to differences in alcohol metabolism in men and women [source: WebMD].
Perhaps, given what we're learning about alcohol's disruption of sleep, it's better to either not drink when it's close to bedtime or find another way to sleep that doesn't depend on external substances.
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