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  • Writer's pictureThe Work in Progress Blog

How Alcohol Affects Sleep

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

It’s summertime and the smell of sunscreen fills the air. The days are longer, the weather is warmer, and filled with celebrations, travel, and adventures. For many people, there’s nothing like knocking back a cold pint or a refreshing cocktail on a hot summer day. While I don’t drink that much in general, this past weekend, I had a chance to indulge in a few drinks at my apartment’s pool with family.


My apartment complex typically holds three to four events a year at their clubhouse. There’s usually free food and booze, which makes it well attended. This time around, it was a pool party with a DJ, games, burgers and brats, fruit, and of course, free alcohol.


The party started at about 11am and went to 5pm. In that period, I had 4 seltzers, 2 bratwursts, 64 oz of water, and a couple slices of watermelon. I paced myself well. By the end of the party, I didn’t feel buzzed, but sunburnt, and ready to eat again. My family and I decided to go to a nearby brewery afterwards which had an empanada food truck. It sounded like the perfect way to cap off the night. I ended up having 2 more drinks while I was there, making a total of 6 alcoholic drinks for the day.


Despite feeling in control, the whole day, this was the most I drank in some time, and I was curious to see how this was going to affect my sleep. The next morning, I was scared to look at my readings, as I assumed it was going to be bad and my biometrics elevated. Did I have enough time to recover before going to bed? After all, it was day drinking versus staying up all night.


sleep performance on whoop

Whoop Readings

Overall Sleep: 6/25/23


Upon waking up, and checking the Whoop app first thing, I was expecting to see elevated numbers and poor sleep. It was surprising to see that I got a decent amount of sleep at a little over 7 hours.


Despite getting a little less REM and deep sleep than normal, nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first glance. However, I did feel groggy, weak, and that I already needed a nap for the day.


My wake events per hour also typically hovers below two and the readings were a little better than normal. Having several wake events a night is completely normal. However, one of the biggest surprises I had when first using Whoop, was that wake events can easily add up to an hour loss of sleep.


heart rate variability

HRV


When I scrolled down to key statistics within the app, this is where I started to see elevated numbers. Whoop defines HRV as the fluctuation in time between heartbeats. Everyone experiences HRV differently and is personal to you. Whoop creates a baseline from a 30-day average to compare to each day. Generally, a higher HRV from your baseline number corresponds to better health and performance. It’s a good indicator on how well your body can adapt to internal and external stressors.


According to Whoop, my average HRV for the week of 6/19/23 – 6/25/23 was 84 ms. After the day of drinking, my HRV was 69, the lowest reading of the week. There’s no doubt alcohol played a big role in the lower HRV.


resting heart rate

RHR


Different than HRV, a lower resting heart rate number is a sign of better fitness. According to Whoop, a lower RHR shows that your heart is strong, and can efficiently keep a steady beat without working as hard. This number is also personal to you. Age, gender, environment, stress, disease, activity level, can all affect RHR readings.


According to the American Heart Association, the average RHR for most people ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. This number could be lower for athletes. My resting heart rate tends to fall in the 50 bpm range. I wasn’t surprised to see this number being the highest of the week at 59 after a day of drinking.


sleep recovery on whoop

Recovery


Putting RHR, HRV, sleep performance all together, Whoop gave me a 39% recovery rating for the night. This was my lowest recovery percentage for the week, not an ideal number, but at least I was not in the red.


Every time I make questionable choices such as indulging in a few too many drinks, Whoop helps bring me back to reality. It shows the consequences in real time, which some might not want to see. The next day, I know I was ready to drink my health smoothie filled with anti-inflammatories to help nurse me back to normalcy.

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