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Binge Drinking Just Once Changes Gene That Regulates Sleep, Study Finds

By: Julie Hand
June 20, 2018

Binge Drinking Just Once Changes Gene That Regulates Sleep, Study Finds

A recent study[1] has found that a single episode of binge drinking — that’s 4 or more drinks in one sitting — affects the gene that regulates sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of six American adults binge drinks at least four times a month, and it’s impacting their sleep.[2]

“Sleep is a serious problem for alcoholics,” says study lead author Mahesh Thakkar, PhD, professor and director of research in the Missouri University School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology. “If you binge drink, the second day you will feel sleep deprived and will need to drink even more alcohol to go to sleep. It is a dangerous cycle.” The researchers set out to discover exactly how alcohol messes with your sleep.

Related: Get free guides, ebooks, recipes and more to supercharge your health

Consuming four drinks influences your genes

As part of the study, mice that were fed alcohol showed an increase in the less restful phase of sleep, known as non-rapid eye movement sleep, four hours post-binge. They were also more awake and slept less during subsequent sleep periods than the control mice. Researchers also found that post-binge mice had lower levels of the sleep-promoting chemical adenosine in their brains. The researchers found that heavy drinking down-regulates the gene that controls sleep, causing the mice to sleep more poorly.

“What we have shown in this research is that a particular gene — which is very important for sleep homeostasis — is altered by just one session of binge drinking,” says Thakkar. “We were not expecting this. We thought it would be affected after multiple sessions of binge drinking, not one. That tells you that as soon as you consume four drinks, it can alter your genes.”

Figure out how much you’re drinking each week

To take control of your drinking habits and improve your sleep, you first need to be honest with yourself about how much alcohol you’re slinging back every night. In a Bulletproof Radio podcast episode, Dr. Mark Atkinson, a medical doctor and leader of the Bulletproof Training Institute, says that two big pours a day can equal a half a bottle of booze if you’re not careful. Keep in mind that two generous drinks actually measures 3-4 servings.

Cutting down on your overall consumption is the first step toward an improved relationship with alcohol, as well as better sleep. The CDC defines moderate drinking as one glass a day for women and two glasses for men.[3]

Be mindful of your social and weekend habits too. If you find yourself drinking four or more times each month, these particular time periods might be derailing you.

Know what to drink

The type of alcohol you drink also affects your overall health, which in turn impacts your sleep. If you do choose to drink, aim for smaller amounts of high-quality alcohol, like potato vodka (avoid grain-based alcohol entirely). Potato vodka is distilled and charcoal-filtered, so your body will only have to deal with breaking down the actual alcohol (no other toxins). If you choose wine, go for a drier variety with less inflammation-producing mold, like Dry Farm Wines.

Related: What to Drink: Bulletproof Alcohol Infographic and Hangover Cures

Try an alcohol alternative like kava for better sleep

Considered the herbal answer to xanax, kava is an alcohol alternative that can also help you sleep. Kava comes from the crushed roots of a Polynesian plant and influences two neurotransmitters: GABA[4] and serotonin.[5] Both help you to relax and get sleepy before bed.

Instead of a nightcap, drink kava tea one hour before you go to sleep. This brand is available in most grocery stores (more appealing to your taste buds than straight-up kava root). For a more powerful dose, steep two or three tea bags at once, since the tea may be weak to some people.

It’s important to use caution when it comes to kava as it may cause liver damage. The jury is still out so you want to be aware, especially if you already have liver problems due to heavy drinking.

Ready to quit drinking for good?

If you are struggling with alcohol addiction and want to quit drinking for good, read this. You might also want to get support from loved ones or a professional, since addiction is tough to overcome.

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