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Why does alcohol make you tired?

May 2019

It is not uncommon for me to hear that someone is using alcohol to wind down at night and help them sleep. Unfortunately, I know that it is counter productive for sleep. Initially you will fall sleep because alcohol has a sedative effect, but the quality of sleep is low. This leads to it being not restorative and you wake feeling more tired.

So this blog is for my ladies who are feeling tired and thinking that alcohol will give you a better sleep.

Why does alcohol make you tired?

Stick with me we’re about to get technical. When alcohol is in the bloodstream it can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning alcohol can get passed a “barrier” that separates blood and cerebrospinal fluid. Once in the brain, it targets receptors on the outside cells. These receptors are for GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid – see why we just say GABA!), which are inhibitory. So when alcohol binds to these receptors allowing chloride to move into the neurons, the result is relaxation, sedation and ultimately sleepiness.

Why does alcohol affect sleep?

Alcohol affects sleep via the same mechanism. Within a few hours the receptors lose their sensitivity to alcohol and move to within the neuron. Without having the receptor on the outside, the chloride can’t move into the neuron. So instead of being inhibitory and sedative, the neurons get excited (aka the party gets started). That’s when you wake up. It is also quantity dependant, drink more, awake for longer.

What can you do?

Well I may be stating the obvious here. But, reduce your alcohol intake. You don’t need that glass of wine to wind down after work; or when the kids are finally in bed. Alcohol can be enjoyed socially, but I really recommend you don’t drink during the week where possible and limit your intake on weekends (binge drinking is a whole other blog post!).

Then when you do wake up the next day, make sure you drink a big glass of water (you should also be doing this in-between drinks the night before).

Move your body to help process the alcohol, just a light walk is OK because I want you to be gentle.

For your body to process alcohol and excrete it, it uses up a lot of nutrients. Particularly B-vitamins and magnesium; so eat really nutrient dense meals all day, fast-food does not sit in this category.

So next time you’re thinking of having a mid-week night cap, because you’re so tired. Maybe think again, have a bath and a camomile tea and head to bed instead.

Until next time… x



Written by Jessica Worth, Nutritionist, Sydney, Mona Vale.

Jess works with women to guide and support them in the direction of better health and lifestyle – without the restrictive diets.

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