Does alcohol help you sleep better?

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The concept of a nightcap before sleeping has existed for many years. What exactly is a nightcap and does it really help you sleep better?

A nightcap before going to bed

The genesis of the nightcap

A “nightcap” was first used by people in the 17th century to provide warmth at night for better sleep. It stemmed from the idea that an alcoholic drink can provide warmth by lowering the body temperature and making one feel sleepy. (The link between a lowered body temperature and the heat that gets generated is slim at best. There is only a small correlation between the lowered body temperature and the blood that flows towards the surface of the body, giving a temporary feeling of warmth. In reality, the practice of using alcohol to warm oneself is not recommended.)

In the olden days in the west, a formal dress was not considered complete without a cap. So was the case when consuming alcohol to bring an end to the evening. Thus came the term "nightcap".

The truth about nightcaps

A practice that began centuries ago, continues even today and for some, having a small drink before going to bed is common. Physicians would even recommend a small dose of alcohol to people suffering from sleep disorders. And while initial consumption of alcohol makes one feel better because it provides warmth to the body and in layman's language “it easily sends you to dreamland”, the ill-effects of alcohol are more prominent at a later stage.

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Alcohol and sleep 

Alcohol consumption tends to be lucrative because of its initial effects like the feelings of relaxation, cheerfulness, sedation, increased courage and pleasure it provides. But consuming alcohol as a way to get easy and relaxed sleep can be dangerous.

Sleep is divided in two stages: Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). NREM accounts to 75% of the total sleep and REM accounts to 20-25% of total sleep. Regular consumption of alcohol before going to bed can steal the sleep in REM stage and other deeper and healing stages of sleep.

Alcohol keeps you in the early stages of sleep from which it is easy to awaken. Once the REM sleep cycle is disrupted, our body fail to progress into the next sleep cycle when we try to fall asleep again. Sometimes, alcohol even fails to give the initial benefit as it raises the level of certain hormones in the human body which play a negative role in making a person fall asleep. More often, it has been noticed that consumption of alcoholic drinks relaxes the throat muscles and creates difficulty in breathing. The struggle for breathing frightens your senses and makes you awaken.

Consuming alcohol as a nightcap can adversely affect everyone - whether tehy are habitual drinkers or only have a drink once in a while. If a person is suffering from sleep disorders, he/she should definitely avoid having alcohol as a nightcap. e Care should also be taken while consuming medications with an evening drink. The ill-effects of alcohol are known to the world, but it is important to understand them and take precautionary measures.

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