Can alcohol be used as an escape during this social isolation period? Here is the take on rest, sleep and immune system by M.D. Thordis Berger.
In times of quarantine and social isolation, it is possible that we will change our alcohol consumption.
Some people are resorting to the consumption of alcoholic beverages to manage the stress, anxiety and boredom of being isolated at home. However, there are bad news for all wine lovers: It is a mistake to think that a glass of wine to relax at night guarantees a better sleep.
Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster but it has a detrimental impact on both the quality and quantity of sleep – and in your brainpower the next day. In reality, it reduces the recovery of our body during sleep.*
Low alcohol intake reduces sleep quality by 9.3%, while moderate consumption decreases sleep quality by 24% and the highest consumption can reach 39.2%.*
These results were similar for men and women, also affecting sedentary and active individuals equally.
Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system. It means that your consumption can induce a feeling of “greater calm” and “relaxation” because it directly impacts the system that is causing anxiety or the feeling of stress.
In other words, alcoholic drinks may help you fall asleep faster – but do not guarantee a good night’s sleep. After a short period – about two hours, depending on individual metabolism -, the body begins to try to eliminate alcohol, which is seen as a toxin.
This process is achieved by drawing water from the cells and expelling the toxin through the kidneys and bladder (causing a diuretic effect with the consequence that you have to urinate more often).
This is the reason why many people wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, interrupting their sleep.
Every time you wake up, you return to the initial stage of sleep.
Cycles of sleep
Sleep has a very unique and reasonably complex architecture. It is divided into two types:
REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep. We typically deepen sleep during cycles, each lasting between 90 minutes to 110 minutes.
We start in phase 1 and we deepen our sleep until phase 4 (the one that corresponds to “sleeping like a rock”) and then we jump into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase and finish the 1st cycle of sleep, going back to the beginning with the 2nd sleep cycle and so on until the alarm clock wakes you up.*
To achieve a good night’s sleep it is necessary to go through all cycles. An adult spends about 50% of his night in phase 2 – reasonably light sleep, 20% in REM phase and the remaining 30% distributed among the remaining sleep cycles.
The (excess of) alcohol suppresses the necessary deep sleep phase, thus making the individual to be more restless and to wake up more often. Immune system compromised due to lack of sleep Rest and recovery are part of a healthy lifestyle and are essential to our health. Scientists were able to show that the proportion of certain cells in the body, called NK cells (from Natural Killer Cell), decreased by 70% if the subjects slept only four instead of eight hours. 3 These cells are a type of cytotoxic lymphocytes necessary for the functioning of the innate immune system. They play an important role in fighting viral infections and tumor cells.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but there is no single recommendation for the exact amount of sleep needed. You should also note that there is no ‘sleep bank’, which you can simply compensate for or store – sleep recovery is only possible to a very limited extent. For all those who suffer from sleep disorders, here is our advice of not going to get a glass of wine, but instead look for rituals that relax in a healthy way. It can be a bath, light candles or read a book. Stay healthy and safe!
Find more ways to boost your immune system with our free guide.
* Pietilä J, Helander E, Korhonen I, Myllymäki T, Kujala UM, Lindholm H. Acute Effect of Alcohol Intake on Cardiovascular Autonomic Regulation During the First Hours of Sleep in a Large Real-World Sample of Finnish Employees: Observational Study. JMIR Ment Health 2018; 5 (1): e23
* Colten HR, Altevogt BM, Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006
* Prather A. et al. Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep. 2015 Sep 1; 38(9): 1353–1359.
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