Why Does Wine Make You Sleepy?

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A good night’s sleep generates significant well-being for your body. Resting the corresponding amount of hours is an activity in which some people find pleasure but sometimes it is not possible to do it. Many people have trouble falling asleep, while others tend to wake up several times throughout the night.

Sleep is one of the pillars of good health and, on many occasions, we do not give it the importance it deserves. Whether it is because of watching television, cell phone, or work, postponing bedtime can have several negative effects on health. Lack of sleep has been linked to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, mental illness, and even virus infections.

Some people have adopted the habit of consuming a glass of wine during dinner or a couple of hours before going to sleep, with the sole purpose of having a pleasant night’s sleep without waking up.

But why does wine make you sleepy? it was originally thought that it was only due to alcohol since it is a neuro depressant substance that inhibits certain parts of your brain and gives you the feeling of relaxation, hence the fact that many scientists such as Matthew Walker (Neuroscientist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley), claim that alcohol produces addiction because it relaxes you and helps you sleep.

However, red wine, especially, causes sleepiness due to the large amounts of melatonin it contains.

A group of Italian scientists seems to have found the key, discovering that grape skins contain the highest amount of melatonin. The scientists tested eight types of grapes, Nebbiolo, Croatina, Sangiovese, Merlot, Marzemino, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Barbera, finding evidence of the presence of the hormone.

Marcello Iriti, head of this scientific team claims that “melatonin in wine would help regulate the human ‘internal clock,’ as does melatonin produced by mammals.”

What is melatonin?

It is the hormone also produced by the human brain that regulates sleep and wake cycles. Thus, our melatonin levels rise at night and fall during the day. And, until recently, the scientific community explained that this hormone could only be produced in the body of some mammals, but it has now been shown that it can also come from some plants. In the particular case of wine, the grapes of some wines, such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, contain a large amount of this hormone.

Despite the results, the Italian scientists who carried out the research already have their detractors, Richard Wurtman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, warns that possibly the Italian scientists have not found melatonin, but another very similar substance.

For the time being, the study is published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, as it is so far the first explanation given for the drowsiness produced by red wine in some people. A summary of the research work can be read in the reproduction of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture by the Wiley Online Library, with the title “Melatonin content in grape: myth or panacea?“.

Regarding the conclusions reached by the group of Italian scientists, the renowned oenologist Angel Mendoza advised that “It is advisable to be cautious. Although if wine makes a person feel like sleeping, it is much better than lexotanil, for taste, aroma and many other things”. However, he recalled that wine “before being a pleasurable drink, it was an antiseptic, euphoriant remedy and food for the peasants who began to produce it”.

In addition, this oenologist has also concluded that “grapes subjected to the stress of a lot of suns and little water in warm regions, where they suffer a little, generate stilbenes, such as resveratrol, which prevents cancer”. So it is very likely that the appearance of melatonin in grapes may be a product of how they are grown in Italy, so it would have to be studied in more depth in other places.

The scientists from the University of Milan also affirm that the melatonin that comes from grapes increases when the vegetable activator benzothiadiazole is used in wine production.

On the other hand, wine is considered one of the pillars of the “Mediterranean diet”, together with olive oil and other healthy foods. So it is very common to find it on any European table at dinner time.

Do you sleep better after drinking a glass of wine?

The researchers suggest that grapes contain melatonin and have found the same substance in beer. Both induce sleep, although, according to the study: “It is a drowsiness that does not help to recover from fatigue”.

It is often said that alcohol is a sedative drug, and it is true. This substance dazes the different regions of the brain and, finally, the consumer ends up asleep. However, this is not a normal state of sleep; some studies have revealed that the electrical activity of the brain of a person who sleeps under the effects of alcohol is similar to a light form of anesthesia.

Is belief involved in it?

On the other hand, we might attribute this phenomenon (in some people more than others, and only to a degree) to the placebo effect. A placebo is a substance or procedure that is administered with the “suggestion” that it will modify some condition, but which, being unknown to the recipient, may have no active property on the basis of which the reactions in question are produced.

The understanding of the placebo effect through this frame is straightforward: the person attributes a quality, in this case, better sleep, to a substance, wine. However, there is an interesting paradox within the placebo effect that may be worth exploring.

In an experiment conducted by Storms and Nisbett, in 1970, something described as a “reverse placebo” was described: a group of subjects, when explained they were taking sleeping pills, took longer to sleep than a group of patients who were explained they were taking arousal pills.

The likely explanation for this was that the patients of the first group were so vigilant about the pills “kicked in” that they took longer to sleep. Conversely, the people in the second group forgot their expectations and worries about sleep, hence they fell asleep faster.

In other words, whether the person might believe wine helps them sleep better or not, it might be helpful. The person might believe that drinking wine helps them sleep better, or the belief that wine does the opposite helps them forget their thoughts about their trouble sleeping.

It’s all about measurement

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015, led by Master of Public Health, Yaakov Henkin found that, within an analysis group, people who consumed a maximum of 5 ounces of red wine before bed reported better sleep quality, while finding no adverse effects.

5 ounces is approximately equivalent to a glass of wine, which is the ideal amount to consume before going to sleep. Several studies have found benefits in the consumption of wine when taken in a low quantity.

The same study mentioned found that those people who drank red wine increased their levels of good cholesterol, and had a more beneficial radius than another group that drank water at night. It is believed that this is not only due to the benefits of alcohol in that amount but also because red wine contains antioxidants that are difficult to reach in some parts of the body. Likewise, it considerably reduces blood sugar levels and allows proper circulation.

On the other hand, although several studies affirm that wine can be beneficial for cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association, an organization focused on this type of medicine, affirms that a scientific consensus has not been reached, since while some point out benefits, others affirm that it can be harmful. However, in its conclusions it highlights that red wine can be beneficial against this type of disease, what should be taken care of is the quantity.

How much is appropriate?

As already mentioned, 5 ounces, a glass, or a cup is the perfect measure to consume before bedtime and is more than enough to receive the benefits and achieve good quality sleep.

Two glasses or more can lead to restless sleep which can cause the person to wake up more times during the night, which ultimately can be negative for the body. Likewise, exceeding that amount can cause various harms, including dependence.

Experts point out that consuming wine can be risky for some people, as they may be inclined to increase the doses. However, if kept in a glass during the evenings it can be safe.

It is recommended that wine be accompanied by a healthy diet that can help improve sleep, avoid sugars or fats at night, and opt for fish or vegetables for dinner.

If what you want is to sleep better, it is also essential to do relaxing activities, nothing related to work, before going to sleep. Also, limit coffee consumption at least five hours before bedtime. Secondly, sunbathe daily. The last coffee of the day should be the one after lunch”, he comments and also explains that the best sun is the midday one since this is a very powerful stimulus for our internal clock.

It is important to emphasize that if you are looking for help to fall asleep and reduce your stress, red wine could be your best friend, as long as you drink it in a limited and measured way. Not only will it help you sleep better, but it can also help your body protect itself from some diseases.

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