How One Night of Binge Drinking Could Ruin Your Sleep Forever

Just one more drink. What’s the harm?

In the moment — maybe even after the fact — one or two nights of shameless drinking every once in awhile might not seem like a problem that’s going to come back to haunt you.

But it turns out just one episode of binge drinking could set you up for sleep deprivation and a variety of associated health problems later on.

Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine studied the sleep patterns of mice exposed to amounts of alcohol that would have been equivalent to binge drinking levels. They found that the mice woke up more frequently and engaged in more periods of non-REM sleep.

They also failed to produce an increased amount of the brain chemical that promotes sleep. The researchers┬ádetermined the binge drinking specifically impacted a sleep-regulating gene in the mice exposed to larger-than-normal amounts of alcohol — what we would call binge drinking.

Binge drinking

Binge drinking | Berezko/Getty Images

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks (men) or five or more alcoholic drinks (women) in the same sitting.

The study was conducted using mice, not people, so scientists have yet to prove that this genetic change works the same way in humans as it does in animals. But there are mounds of evidence supporting the probable negative health consequences of binge drinking over long periods of time — including sleep problems.

Excessive drinking can have devastating side effects, the CDC warns. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Unintentional injuries
  • Violent behaviors such as self-harm and assault
  • Chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and stroke
  • Memory problems
  • Multiple types of cancer.

In terms of sleep and sleep-related disorders, alcohol really can ruin everything — even if there isn’t a specific gene involved. The National Sleep Foundation says extreme alcohol use can impact your sleep in a number of ways: Everything from disrupted REM sleep and circadian rhythm to an increased risk of sleep apnea.

Wine cellar

Wine cellar | DmitriMaruta/iStock/Getty Images

Unfortunately, most Americans binge drink on a regular basis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six U.S. adults binge drinks four times every month. Most binge drinkers consume an average of seven drinks per binge.

These individuals risk developing sleep disorders, heart problems, cancer, and more. So even if you’ve always been a light sleeper or don’t feel like you need as much sleep as the average human, there are plenty of other reasons to avoid drinking too much, too often.

Now here’s a glass of not-so-terrible news for you: You don’t have to stop drinking completely to decrease your risk of these and other negative health outcomes. In fact, moderate amounts of alcohol might actually make you healthier.

But you should still set limits — specifically, no more than two drinks per day (men) or one drink per day (women). Maybe one extra on special occasions. Just one.

Enjoy your drinks. Not so much that you make yourself tired and miserable, though. It may seem worth the tradeoff when everyone else around you is over-indulging, but your past self can probably remind you it’s anything but.

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