By Gabe Sanders Ph.D., NSCA-CSCS
Do you consume alcohol daily? If so, do you simply have a drink or two at night to wind down or distress? Alcohol is enjoyed by many people all throughout the year, but there are a few side effects to alcohol consumption that many avid drinkers are not aware of. First, alcohol can interrupt nutrient absorption, alter metabolism, and second, it can disrupt the circadian rhythm. Metabolism and the circadian rhythm are two valuable components to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
What is circadian rhythm?
The circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle of a body’s psychological and hormonal changes. For example, hormone levels in the body are elevated and then suppressed at certain times of the day, naturally, to allow for sleep, recovery, metabolism, and many more functions. A normal circadian rhythm is critical for optimal health.
Oftentimes, unhealthy people have disrupted circadian rhythms which alters their body’s ability to function properly throughout the day. Moreover, alcohol consumption (even mild to moderate), especially excessive alcohol consumption drastically interrupts the circadian rhythm, by disrupting sleep patterns.
Alcohol disrupts sleep
Good, nightly sleep allows the body to reset and recover each night, however, alcohol prevents deep sleep, even if you think that you slept great such as times you have passed out drunk. Over time the disruption of sleep alters hormonal levels like cortisol (and many other hormones) throughout the day and night, which slows metabolism, leaves people feeling tired, weak, and exhausted.
Another key component to alcohol's deleterious effect on the circadian rhythm deals with the light cues. Normally a person responds to light, which alters hormonal responses and brain responses on the biochemical components of the body. Alcohol can impede a person’s response to light, even when sleeping and this compounds the negative effects of altering the sleep-wake cycle that every person needs every single day.
Lieber, Charles S. “Alcohol: its metabolism and interaction with nutrients.” Annual review of nutrition 20.1 (2000): 395-430.
Suter, Paolo M., Erik Häsler, and Wilhelm Vetter. “Effects of alcohol on energy metabolism and body weight regulation: is alcohol a risk factor for obesity?.” Nutrition Reviews 55.5 (1997): 157-171.
Clugston, Robin D., and William S. Blaner. “The adverse effects of alcohol on vitamin A metabolism.” Nutrients 4.5 (2012): 356-371.
Dong, Li, et al. “Effects of the circadian rhythm gene period 1 (per1) on psychosocial stress-induced alcohol drinking.” American Journal of Psychiatry 168.10 (2011): 1090-1098.
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