Whining about Wine
October 13, 2008 4:46 PM   Subscribe

Why does red wine keep only me awake?

Contrary to pretty much everything returned by a google search of wine + sleep, if I have 3+ glasses of wine over the course of an evening (say within 2-3 hours), I will usually wake up about 1-2 hours after falling asleep that night and not be able to fall back asleep solidly for the rest of the night. This occurs most notably when I've had a few glasses of wine, and not when I've had beer or booze. I don't drink white wine much at all, so i can't say if it has the same effect, but this is extremely common when I've had reds (usually zin, syrah/shiraz, malbec). When I wake up, I will feel very tired, but it's almost impossible to keep my eyes shut, or "turn my brain off." What gives?
posted by tdischino to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's not just you. I find that any alcohol tends to keep me up.

The only plausible theory I've heard is that because our bodies are trying to rally against the sedative effect of drinking, we're unable to sleep even though we feel quite tired.
posted by aladfar at 4:51 PM on October 13, 2008

It doesn't just keep you awake. It does the same damn thing to me, which is why I rarely have it. I remember the first morning that happened to me -- I had a plane to catch at 6 am. I woke up at 4:30, thinking: how lovely! I'm perfectly alert in time to get to the airport! I must not have a hangover at all! By the time I was on that plane, I longed for death.

To me personally it seems to have to do with the amount of congeners -- that is, non-alcoholic ingredients -- in the alcohol. Red wine will invariably do this to me; white wine does it only if abused; rum does it sometimes; vodka never does.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:53 PM on October 13, 2008

You aren't alone. The same thing happens to me (but anything more than 2 glasses of wine). It sucks. I hate it. It didn't start until a few years ago. I chalked it up to age (I am 35 now).

Sorry. I am not any help, just wanted you to know it's not just YOU.
posted by beachhead2 at 4:53 PM on October 13, 2008

Red wine does the same thing to me, even in fairly small quantities (although it depends on how long before going to sleep I've had it).

Alcohol does interfere with sleep patterns so I imagine that's what's going on here. I've noticed that wine has sort of a delayed effect on me -- I won't quite feel how much I've had to drink until I've had more than I intended.
posted by darksong at 4:54 PM on October 13, 2008

The irony of this is what kills me... for so many people (my wife included), wine is the best sleep aid. Makes sense that a portion of the population would have this same reaction, but I'd have to imagine that there is some study out there that would have covered this...

Countess Elena, that makes sense about the non-alcohol contents perhaps... I tend to shop of the bottom shelf at TJs, in the $4-$8 range. Perhaps the reduced price should be inversely related to the "impurity" of the wine?

beachhead2, I would agree with you that this started recently for me, but then I realized, I've only really been a wine drinker for a few years anyway.
posted by tdischino at 5:04 PM on October 13, 2008

You are not alone, and while not usual this effect appears to not be uncommon either. I have always thought that it was related to the similar effect of inducing arrhythmias in some people. This is just my gut feel, and I have not seen scientific study on it though. Fish oil helps arrhythmia and if this is related it may help reduce this effect. Maybe not, but it is still good for your heart.
posted by caddis at 5:16 PM on October 13, 2008

Countess Elena, that makes sense about the non-alcohol contents perhaps... I tend to shop of the bottom shelf at TJs, in the $4-$8 range. Perhaps the reduced price should be inversely related to the "impurity" of the wine?

You may be right, but I was thinking of the redness of the wine. Red wine contains more of the skin of the grape than white wine, and is made from different varietals, both of which give it the red coloring. It has tannins and other ingredients that, in chemical terms, are impurities. Those are congeners.

(Personally I found that the bottom shelf wines don't produce a hangover problem, so much as a "smelling like feet" problem.)
posted by Countess Elena at 5:17 PM on October 13, 2008

What actually happens is that though wine induces sleep - it is a sedative/hypnotic - the sleep is not natural. It suppresses REM sleep.

When you have metabolized the wine - approximately one serving per hour - you will then awaken. THEN and only then can one begin to sleep normally, i.e., restfully. That's the problem you face.

Furthermore, low doses of alcohol have an activating effect on the CNS. Alcohol at low doses acts as a stimulant. This is particularly idiosyncratic, so what stimulates you may "depress" or "make sleepy" others. However, generally, low doses act as stimulants for most people. "Low" is defined by the person. Low for you may be three; low for your friends may be one or two.

Best advice (rarely taken by this biomedical scientist, full disclosure): Water between drinks. Water prior to bed. There is a presumed hangover preventer but I am not familiar with the peer-reviewed research regarding it. Discover it yourself at www. pubmed.gov.

You are entirely normal - good luck.
posted by Punctual at 5:46 PM on October 13, 2008

Wine over the course of an evening pretty much knocks me out all night UNLESS I eat a lot (esp. carbs) or fail to drink water. If that occurs, I wake up super early and have to rehydrate or evacuate, the activity of either of these being enough to rebound me out of sleep into full awakeness. Perhaps you have a more benign or ambiguous form of this effect, so I would suggest cutting back food and drinking a moderate amount of water before bed, just to see what happens.
posted by crapmatic at 5:55 PM on October 13, 2008

My unscientific, but professional drunkard's opinion is that it has to do with sugar content. Wine, rum, whiskey, mixed drinks all have a lot more sugar in them than vodka. Try eating a candy bar before you go to bed - you may find that your reaction is similar. Red wine for me is particularly bad - it gives me heart palpitations, flushing, hot flashes and a headache. Possibly the sulfates? (although I hear these are in beer also, which generally doesn't bother me)
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:01 PM on October 13, 2008

I don't have the exact quote, but I recently went to the doctor for help with sleeping problems, and the literature my doctor gave me specifically mentioned that you get a bit of a sugar rush once the alcohol has worn off when you're sleeping--so you're almost assuredly going to wake up about 2-4 hours later.
posted by timoni at 8:13 PM on October 13, 2008

Punctual has it - interesting how different the results for alcohol+sleep are from wine+sleep. The alcohol+sleep results pretty consistently say that alcohol may help you get to sleep, but it's difficult for you to stay asleep, and the quality of the sleep you get is poor.

As for the difference for you between wine and other alcohols - perhaps you're metabolizing it a bit differently? You're definitely dealing with a different alcohol concentration, and a somewhat different delivery system. Perhaps you're not likely to drink as much alcohol when drinking beer as when drinking red wine.

I'd say that your experiences with wine are pretty common... I had two glasses before bed and now I'm up at 3:40a responding to your post! meh.
posted by FortyT-wo at 1:44 AM on October 14, 2008

another data point: after a few glasses of red wine I usually conk out for a few hours (with bizarre 'red wine dreams') and then I wake up and can't get back to sleep. I've mentioned this to friends, and a few of them experience the same thing.
posted by iona at 2:52 AM on October 14, 2008

Hmm I was going to post a new question when I found this. However there don't seem to be any answers aside from maybe it's sugar, and that those of us with this problem are out of luck. For me it's not just wine but all alchohol, and I'm always eating and drinking water. I love desserts and sometimes do have candy after dinner, or honey in some bedtime tea and that never has the same insomnia effect as alchohol. I can have one drink but never to the point of jolly buzzy socializingness. I guess it's just our lot.
posted by scazza at 6:10 AM on February 25, 2009

Update: A wine expert cousin of mine says to try organic/French wine (all French wine is organic because of their regulations). Last night I was up all night after drinking a drop of Blackthorn, and wondering why Doc's organic cider doesn't keep me up. I've never been a big French wine drinker, but my cousin says she's recommended French wine to people who get really sick and they've been amazingly fine. That, for example, New Zealand wines are really new and have all kinds of dodgy stuff in them and that's all I used to drink. So I'm going to try organic everything, especially small producers, and see if it makes a difference.
posted by scazza at 5:07 AM on June 23, 2009

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