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Balancing sleep, caffeine and alcohol

by Mark Miller March 31, 2016

Balancing sleep, caffeine and alcohol

Balancing sleep, caffeine and alcohol can be like walking the high wire. The National Sleep Foundation calls caffeine and alcohol “sleep stealers.” But studies show they are beneficial in moderate amounts.

6:38 a.m. That hour comes all too early, especially if people were drinking the night before. It’s the time when the average American awakens after an average night of 7 hours and 36 minutes of sleep. And the first thing most people do in the morning is brew a pot of coffee.

How much sleep should you get? It turns out 7 and a half hours of sleep per night are OK for a lot of people.

But, according to Entrepreneur.com, 57 percent of Americans press the snooze button at least once for a few brief minutes of sleep that is never really as good as before the alarm first went off. People who hit the snooze button spend 3 ½ months of their lives dozing after pressing that alarm clock button.

Just a few more minutes of blessed oblivion, right? I don’t want to think about this day.

The morning comes a bit earlier for people in certain professions. According to The New York Times, the professionals who get the least sleep are:

7 to 9 hours per night

The National Sleep Foundation says the amount of sleep people need varies from 14 to 17 hours for newborns to 7 to 9 hours for adults. But every individual is different.

The foundation has advice for getting a decent night’s sleep:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule, even on weekends.
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Evaluate your bedroom to ensure ideal temperature, sound and light.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Beware of hidden sleep stealers, like alcohol and caffeine.
  • Turn off electronics before bed.

“Sleep stealers”? Who are these people who are trying to take the two things that make life tolerable?? Just kidding.

On social media, sleep, caffeine and alcohol are big topics for memes. Many of the memes for sleep lately on Twitter have been serious, but some are funny:

https://twitter.com/Trendographics/status/715171831750103040

Many of the memes for alcohol and coffee are funny, and they show just how much people enjoy a caffeine or alcohol buzz.

Go ahead. Have a cup or three of joe

Anyone who has had a hangover, or God forbid is an alcoholic, knows the dangers of drinking.

But what about caffeine? It’s also addictive, but only mildly and not in a life-destroying way like alcohol or narcotics. Experts and common sense recommend not taking caffeine later in the afternoon so as not to lose sleep. And if you only take about 300 to 400 mg of caffeine in a day, it’s not thought to have bad effects like the headaches, irritability, nervousness, anxiety that come with excess caffeine consumption.

In fact, more and more research is showing that coffee has multiple benefits. Viter Life posted a blog that stated all the benefits of coffee, including:

  • Reduces risk of heart disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis
  • Boosts semen production
  • Invigorates
  • Enhances memory
  • Alleviates fatigue
  • Reduces the risk of kidney stones
  • Helps alleviate migraine headaches
  • Enhances the effect of over-the-counter painkillers
  • Enhances athletic performance
  • Reduces suicide risk
  • Prevents ringing in the ears
  • Alleviates erectile dysfunction
  • Reduces risk of type 2 diabetes

Caffeine is the most commonly used mood-altering substance in the world. About 90 percent of Americans take caffeine in one form or another.

Benefits of adequate sleep

Sleep, of course, is necessary. But adequate amounts of sleep also provide benefits. The National Sleep Foundation article states: “Getting enough sleep improves your health, strengthens your immune system, improves your mood and boosts productivity; chronic poor sleep is linked to poor health, mood disorders and low productivity. Improving sleep in various demographics could make a positive impact on public health.”

Benefits of alcohol

And what about that other alleged sleep thief, demon alcohol? Well, it turns out that has benefits too, if taken in small amounts. And we do mean small.

A Mayo Clinic article states:

Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits. It may:

  • Reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease
  • Possibly reduce your risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow)
  • Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes

Even so, the evidence about the possible health benefits of alcohol isn’t certain, and alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks.

If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

Alcohol does help people fall asleep more quickly and stay in deep sleep longer, says WebMD, but it does not improve sleep quality, a review of 27 studies has found. Alcohol reduces the time spent in REM sleep that is thought to be so beneficial. And reliance on alcohol to sleep often results in memory problems, sleep apnea, sleepwalking and sleep talking. Again, WebMD reports about 1 to 2 drinks per night are OK.

Balancing sleep, caffeine and alcohol

There are plenty of research studies on sleep and caffeine, and sleep alcohol, and even some on alcohol and caffeine. But we could find none that combines the three. So our non-professional advice is the same as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “Moderation in all things.”

The upshot is if you take the right amounts of sleep, alcohol and caffeine, it won’t hurt you and it may even help. If you can just combine the right amount of caffeine and alcohol with the correct amount of sleep, you’ll be performing like a champ and feeling healthier and more rested.

The question we will leave you with is: What time of day is it OK, if ever, to drink Irish coffee, which contains both coffee and whisky?

Mark Miller
Mark Miller



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