University of Washington and University of California, Berkeley researchers have uncovered an unexpected twist in how alcohol and caffeine, when consumed together, affect sleep.
Their study, recently published in PLOS ONE, initially set out to confirm the belief that combining these two substances would worsen sleep quality.
The team, including Frank Song, a doctoral candidate, hypothesized that mixing the world’s most popular psychoactive substances—alcohol and caffeine—would lead to poorer sleep.
However, a group of financial traders, who regularly consume both, reported something different.
Instead of compounding negative effects on sleep, the substances seemed to counteract each other’s impact on sleep quality and duration.
Caffeine and Alcohol’s Counteracting Effects
Throughout the six-week study, participants showed patterns of using one substance to counteract the effects of the other.
While caffeine might seem like a quick fix for alcohol’s aftereffects, the study suggests this might only be a short-term solution.
In the long run, this “self-medication” could lead to a vicious cycle of poor sleep due to a misalignment between actual sleep quality and perceived sleep quality.
Sleep Quality Misconception
Although caffeine use did lead to objectively less sleep, participants did not feel their sleep quality was reduced.
This mismatch between perception and reality could contribute to ongoing use of alcohol and caffeine, despite their known negative effects on sleep.
Financial traders were chosen for the study because their high-pressure jobs require sharp attention and quick thinking.
They often use caffeine and alcohol to manage work stress. These professionals logged their daily consumption of drinks and sleep observations, offering insight into real-world habits.
Results on Alcohol and Caffeine’s Individual Effects
As expected, caffeine consumption was associated with slightly reduced sleep duration, and alcohol intake led to reports of worse sleep quality.
But when participants combined caffeine during the day with alcohol at night, the anticipated double negative effect on sleep didn’t immediately show.
The findings highlight the complex relationship between alcohol, caffeine, and sleep.
While the substances may seem to offset each other’s negative effects in the short term, this study raises concerns about the long-term impact on sleep patterns and overall health.
In conclusion, while the initial findings challenge long-held assumptions about alcohol and caffeine’s combined effect on sleep, they also suggest that relying on caffeine to offset poor sleep due to alcohol may lead to a harmful cycle that ultimately degrades sleep health.
If you care about sleep, please read studies about the science on 3 traditional bedtime remedies, and this sleep supplement may help prevent memory loss and cognitive decline.
The research findings can be found in PLOS ONE.
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