7 Reasons To Drink Alcohol During The Day
Probably not what you expect to hear from a nutritionist, to drink alcohol during the day! Let me explain. If you’re not already drinking alcohol, this blog is not meant to convince you otherwise. On the other hand, if you do already drink, I’m going to help you do it in the healthiest way possible!
We all know that at its core, alcohol is a toxin. It hinders the liver, impairs judgment and reaction time, disrupts sleep, creates nutrient deficiencies, is linked to many diseases, and so on. To this end, the US government defined acceptable levels of intake in their dietary guidelines. Anything above 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men in a day is enough to carry health risks.
So how can we be healthy if we don’t want to give up drinking?
Let’s look at 7 ways alcohol immediately impacts your body. With this information, we’ll list out some tips to be wiser about alcohol consumption.
1. Alcohol Impacts Sleep Quantity and Quality
You’ve likely heard of the importance of melatonin in getting and staying asleep. Your brain makes the hormone melatonin to regulate your circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle. Levels are lowest during the day and rise in the evening. This rising of evening levels is what helps you to get sleepy, and stay asleep.
One way alcohol can disrupt your sleep is by reducing your melatonin levels. In one study, participants’ melatonin levels dropped by 19% three hours after consuming alcohol. (1) For most of us, 3 hours after a drink is right when we’re trying to be asleep!
In addition, alcohol affects your overall sleep quality. There are a variety of ways to measure sleep quality. One way is to look at how fast it takes for you to fall asleep, called sleep onset latency. Another way is how efficient you are at staying asleep, as measured by the number of times you wake and how long you stay awake. Additionally, sleep quality relates to the distribution of your sleep stages through REM, deep, and light sleep. Alcohol impacts all of these things! (2, 3)
Alcohol reduced sleep onset latency, sleep efficiency, and rapid eye movement sleep while increasing wakefulness and slow wave sleep across the entire night compared with placebo. (2)
Without enough REM sleep, you’ll wake feeling more groggy and experience less brainpower during the day. With lower sleep efficiency (basically meaning more tossing and turning), you’ll feel more fatigued. Depending on how much you drink, these negative effects can be hardly noticeable or significantly disruptive.
2. Alcohol Disrupts Circadian Rhythm
The circadian clock controls a great deal of the body’s daily rhythm and processes. For starters, it directs your body temperature, melatonin release, cortisol (stress hormone), eating behaviors, metabolism, digestion, and detoxification. And as with everything in the body, your circadian clock is influenced by your genes. Researchers have discovered that when you drink alcohol, it alters the expression of your circadian clock genes. (4) This means that certain genes can turn on or off and therefore change how your rhythm is regulated.
3. Alcohol Worsens Breathing Problems
Another way alcohol worsens your sleep is through its effect on your breathing. It is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea and severe snoring. (3, 5) Both sleep apnea and snoring means less oxygen is making it to the brain. Less oxygen leads to lighter sleep and lower energy production, both of which cause you to feel tired even after enough hours of sleep. Not to mention, you’re then negatively impacting your partner’s sleep!
4. Alcohol Dehydrates
As part of a healthy lifestyle, you are likely mindful of drinking enough water (though it is quite easy to forget!). Being hydrated speeds up metabolism, increases energy, and improves digestion. However, alcohol does the opposite: it dehydrates you. That’s because alcohol is a diuretic. It causes you to produce more urine by stealing water from your body. A study on elderly men found that wine and spirits increased urine output 4 hours after consumption. (6)
In addition to the negative effects of dehydration, when you drink alcohol before bedtime, it means more trips to the bathroom. Yet another way sleep is disrupted!
5. Alcohol Reduces Growth Hormone
As the name implies, growth hormone is produced by the body to help it grow. It helps you build bone and muscle, and have a healthy body composition and metabolism. Your brain produces growth hormone mainly while you sleep. Alcohol has a direct effect in suppressing growth hormone levels, as much as 75%. (7, 8)
With less growth hormone, your body’s ability to heal and recover physically is dampened. As adults managing health and weight, growth hormone is a precious asset you want to keep at optimal levels.
6. Alcohol Dysregulates Blood Sugar
Keeping blood sugar stable is crucial to weight management, consistent energy and mood, and prevention of many health issues. The hormone insulin is the main regulator of blood sugar, helping glucose get into cells. Studies show that alcohol can increase cellular resistance to insulin and decrease insulin production. (9) As a result, blood sugar increases, as does risk of diabetes. For those already with diabetes, alcohol consumed in the evening was shown to impact blood sugar both immediately and the morning after. (10)
When blood sugar isn’t stable, our body goes into a stress state and can release adrenaline. Adrenaline and sleep aren’t a good mix! This can cause us to wake up alert in the middle of the night.
7. Alcohol Increases Cortisol and Decreases HRV
It may be very appealing to drink alcohol in stressful moments, but to be at your best, you might reconsider. Researchers have found that the more alcohol an individual consumes throughout the week, the higher their cortisol levels. (11) Since cortisol is our stress hormone, this indicates that daily alcohol consumption is a stressor to the body.
Cortisol is also an important part of the circadian rhythm. It rises in the morning to help you get out of bed and is low at night to help you sleep. The study above showed this pattern is dysregulated in drinkers.
Alcohol also negatively impacts your heart rate variability (HRV). Your heart does not beat at perfectly timed intervals. Heart rate is a measure of the number of heartbeats over a given time. HRV is the variability in the time between heartbeats. A higher HRV is associated with lower stress on the body and greater overall health. It also means greater resilience when faced with mental, emotional, or physical stress. Unfortunately, as alcohol consumption increases, HRV decreases. (12)
I have an Oura ring that tells me what my nightly HRV is. I admit, I used to have alcohol several times per month. This changed a long time ago after seeing my HRV consistently drop by about 30% when I drank (yes, even with high-quality, organic, sulfite-free red wine). Now, I only drink a handful of times per year! As a result, I’ve noticed a significant improvement in the quality of my sleep.
SUMMARY: Alcohol can worsen sleep and breathing, increase stress, dehydrate, imbalance blood sugar, and affect your metabolism and energy. Some of these negative effects can be mitigated by drinking during the day so that your blood levels of alcohol are low by the time you need to sleep.
How then do we wisely drink alcohol?
- End early: Consume alcohol during the day or early evening. Stop at least 4 hours before bed so that you can get a better night’s sleep. This can help your body get closer to baseline before getting in bed (hydrated, not stressed, stable blood sugar, enough growth hormone, etc).
- Sip alcohol alongside water: Have a glass of water nearby and interchange drinking water and sipping your alcohol. Since you’ll be taking in so many fluids, you’ll want to leave enough time to eliminate this fluid before getting in bed.
- Keep alcohol to a minimum: 1 drink per day if you’re a woman and 2 if you’re a man, as few days per week as you can.
Cheers to you being at your best! Leave a comment if you’ve noticed that alcohol affects your sleep.
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- Evening alcohol suppresses salivary melatonin in young adults. 2007. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17612945/
- Sleep following alcohol intoxication in healthy, young adults: effects of sex and family history of alcoholism. 2011. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21323679/
- Alcohol and the risk of sleep apnoea: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 2018. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29458744/
- The Molecular Circadian Clock and Alcohol-Induced Liver Injury. 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26473939/
- Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Snoring and Sleep Apnea: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32513091/
- The Diuretic Action of Weak and Strong Alcoholic Beverages in Elderly Men: A Randomized Diet-Controlled Crossover Trial. 2017. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28657601/
- Effect of alcohol on sleep and nighttime plasma growth hormone and cortisol concentrations. 1980. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7419664/
- Effects of acute alcohol intoxication on growth axis in human adolescents of both sexes. 2000. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11105985/
- Alcoholism and Diabetes Mellitus. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3335891/
- The effect of evening alcohol consumption on next-morning glucose control in type 1 diabetes. 2001. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11679452/
- The Relationship between Alcohol Consumption and Cortisol Secretion in an Aging Cohort. 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2266962/
- 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. 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5878366/