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How Drinking Alcohol May Be Affecting Your Sleep

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It turned out to be a relatively chill holiday party this year—you snacked on some cheese and drank a couple glasses of spiced rum punch over conversation with a few colleagues, then—miraculously—made it to bed at decent time. But now you’re at work, under the unkind fluorescence swearing that if you can just make it through today, you’ll never do it again. You’re wondering how you could possibly feel this awful if you drank only a few glasses of wine. Sure, you could have used more rest, but…

And then you remember that you woke up suddenly at 4 a.m. and could not get back to sleep.

Why? Well, those same two glasses of merlot that helped you drift easily into slumber, may very well have been the reason you found yourself wide awake at the crack of dawn. This is due to something called the “metabolic rebound” effect, which is when your sleeping is disturbed once the body metabolizes the alcohol and blood alcohol levels start to drop.

And women, it turns out, could be more prone to this than men are. A June 2011 study by the University of Michigan found that women do, in fact, sleep fewer hours than men after having consumed alcohol—they woke up more often and for more minutes each time. The study, lead by the director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at 
U of M, J. Todd Arnedt, Ph.D., believes this may be because women metabolize alcohol faster than men do. A February 2011 cnn.com article highlighted the research, “Women who go to bed tipsy sleep much less soundly than men who have the same blood-alcohol content, the study found. Whereas alcohol had only a minor impact on men's sleep, the female study participants slept more fitfully and for less time after a night of drinking than they did when they were sober.”

I know, the holidays really are that one time of year when we allow ourselves to run straight towards all those indulgences that we (try) to avoid every other time of year. We trade in our fresh fruits and vegetables for ginger snaps and HoneyBaked ham. We find ourselves opting for red wine over water of any kind (and maybe even forgetting to drink water all). And, of course, it’s when we decide that going out every weeknight after also having been out all weekend is not only perfectly acceptable, but absolutely necessary in order to take full advantage of the once-a-year seasonal soirees.  

Should we let this wretched “metabolic rebound” effect get in the way of having a good time? No way. Just remember, the next time you fall asleep after even just a few drinks, don’t be surprised if you find yourself awake in the wee hours of the morning.

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