You usually go through four stages of sleep, which starts with light sleep in stages one and two, followed by deep sleep in stage three and the final stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which happens three or four times a night and is when most of our dreaming happens.
Some people might think having a small glass of alcohol before bed will help us fall asleep quicker, but this is only partly true.
Many people don't realise that alcohol can mess up their sleep cycle, leading to the consumption of caffeine or having naps to stay up in the daytime, causing them further sleep issues.
Why does alcohol cause you to have weird dreams?
Drinking alcohol boosts a neurotransmitter called gamma – Aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which allows us to reach and cycle through the first three stages of non-REM sleep quicker but suppresses REM sleep, causing us to wake up multiple times during the night.
Kelli Janata, a sleep medicine specialist and pulmonologist at UCHealth Sleep Medicine Clinic in Longmont, Colorado explained: "As the booze wears off around halfway through the night, GABA levels drop, decreasing non-REM sleep and increasing REM sleep, a phenomenon known as REM rebound."
Since your body is cycling through four stages of sleep a few times a night, you go back to stage one after REM sleep.
But because of REM rebound, you spend only little time in light sleep and more time dreaming in REM, this makes it more likely that you wake up from intense dreams.
So, while alcohol itself doesn’t cause you to have weird dreams, it causes disturbed sleep which can make whatever dreams you have more vivid.
Should alcohol be avoided before bedtime?
While Janata advices against using alcohol is a “crutch to fall asleep,” you can still drink before bed as long as you are mindful of the amount you drink and plan ahead of time.
If you choose to drink in the evenings, you can avoid weird dreams by limiting yourself to one drink with dinner at around 6 pm. In short, if it’s only a little bit and you do it early enough, you can be slightly buzzed and have a good night’s sleep without any weird dreams.
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