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Alcohol Won't Help You Sleep in the Long Run

Dec 11, 2014 11:03 PM EST

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five adults in the United States regularly drinks alcohol to help them fall asleep, whether that be a cold beer, a glass of wine, or something stronger. However, new research has shown that this is actually a bad idea, as alcohol right before bed may interfere with the brain's built-in system for regulating sleep.

For a while, some experts have theorized that using alcohol as a sleep aid would only ruin a set circadian rhythm - the body's built in alarm clock. This could throw off when a person grows tired and feels most alert, but would do no lasting damage.

However, according to a study recently published in the journal Alcohol, it is actually a much more unhealthy habit than previously thought.

"We discovered that alcohol actually promotes sleep by affecting a person's sleep homeostasis - the brain's built-in mechanism that regulates your sleepiness and wakefulness," lead researcher Mahesh Thakkar, of the University of Missouri Health System, explained in a recent release.

Sleep homeostasis balances the body's need for sleep by measuring how long a person has been awake. If someone has been awake too long, and is at a loss for energy, the body produces adenosine, a naturally occurring sleep-regulating substance that increases a person's need for sleep. If you turn in early, even when you body isn't tired, homeostasis will shift to wake you earlier than usual.

However, with alcohol disrupting this, a person may experience more frequently disrupted sleep, and if this occurs often enough, it could lead to insomnia.

"Alcohol disrupts sleep and the quality of sleep is diminished. Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, which increases your need to go the bathroom and causes you to wake up earlier in the morning," added study author Pradeep Sahota. "Based on our results, it's clear that alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid."

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