Sometimes, I find it difficult to fall asleep after a stressful work day. Drinking a small glass of red wine seems to help me relax and sleep. Is this advisable? If I rely on wine to help me sleep, will I start needing more alcohol to help me sleep? Are there problems associated with regular drinking, such as poor sleep and alcoholism? I find myself waking during the night at times.
Alcohol does have sedating effects and is probably the most common sleeping aid taken by people in the world, with some studies suggesting that as much as 20 per cent of the US population needed an alcoholic drink to help them fall asleep. Drinking alcohol can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, and it can also increase the amount of sleep in the first half of the night. During the second half of the night, when most of the alcohol in the blood has metabolised, the body can shift to light sleep and cause you to wake up repeatedly, or to have unsettling dreams. Sleep is a very important time for the brain to consolidate the memories and skills acquired during the day. Also, many important processes for the entire body happen during sleep. These include healing, growth, getting rid of body waste, and replenishing stores of energy and chemicals for the next day’s use. Most people need between seven and eight hours of sleep every night. Alcohol should only be drunk in moderation — not more than one drink per day for women and not more than two drinks per day for men, and not exceeding two or three times per week. Needing an alcoholic drink to fall asleep every night may suggest early signs of alcohol dependency. The body can become so accustomed to the sedating effects of alcohol that more and more needs to be consumed for the person to feel drowsy. Increased alcohol intake can lead to alcoholism and other medical problems in the long term. It is better to improve your sleep hygiene by avoiding stimulants and having a regular bedtime routine, such as: • maintaining a fixed bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends• keeping the bedroom quiet and dark• maintaining a comfortable bedroom temperature• avoiding watching TV or using the computer or handphone in bed• limiting caffeinated drinks to two per day and not drinking them after 4pm• relaxing before bed by taking a warm bath, listening to soft music or reading a lighthearted book
Dr Leow Leong Chai, Senior Consultant, Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, and Director, Sleep Disorders Unit, Singapore General Hospital