Oktoberfest is on, having officially run from September 21st to October 7th, but extended throughout the month of October in some areas. Oktoberfest is a yearly Bavarian folk celebration of good beer, good food, and good fun. Every year, millions of litres of different beers are served and consumed at this festival. If you didn’t get to run over to Munich to catch the celebration, you may be tempted to have one of your own. But there are a few things about beer and sleep that you should know first.
Beer can be a good sleep aid, but too much can actually prevent you from getting good sleep – even if you pass out after a few too many pints. Here’s the science behind beer as a sleep aid, and why you should be careful how much you chug down this Oktoberfest.
It Starts with Hops
Hops are what give beer its bitter flavour. They are the female flowers of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus. Hops aren’t only for beer, though. They have been used in European herbal medicine since the 9th century, and possibly earlier. A sedative effect was also noted when hops farmers tended to fall asleep at work although their tasks were no more difficult than those of others working the fields. Since then, particularly when hops came into popular use for beer brewing, scientists began studying what ingesting hops does to the body. As a result, this sedative effect was revisited and hops has come under scrutiny as an ingredient in the treatment of sleep disorders.
Hops as a Sleep Aid
The research is far from complete, but studies indicate that hops may be a good sleep aid. Two separate studies on how hops may improve sleep quality – one published in the PLOS One journal and another published in Acta Physiological Hungarica – showed that women and university students, respectively, who drank non-alcoholic beverages with hops slept better and reported experiencing less anxiety.
Note that the studies were done using non-alcoholic beverages. This is because drinking too much alcohol – whether it’s before bedtime or at any other time of night or day – can disrupt sleep. Alcohol may seem to help you sleep because it can make you snooze sooner, but it is actually a very poor sleep aid because it reduces the quality of your sleep.
27 separate studies reviewed together indicate that alcohol reduces restorative REM sleep. Without the benefit of this sleep stage, you could be preventing yourself from experiencing important learning steps that help you transfer new skills from short to long term memory. Poor sleep will also prevent your body from detoxifying and rob your brain of the ability to make good decisions and creative associations. Alcohol has also been found to be a contributor to sleep disorders such as potentially dangerous sleep apnea. At the very least, alcohol can leave you drowsy and unable to concentrate.
Beer is not a Sleep Aid
In short, alcohol is not a good sleep aid. It can help people fall asleep faster, but then causes sleep disruptions through the second half of the night. You’ll think you’re sleeping better, but you’re really not. If you decide to have an extra pint to celebrate, it’s no one’s business but yours, but we just wanted to make sure that you are aware of how it can affect your quality of sleep. Hops is a good sleep aid, but you should get it from non-alcoholic sources.