My friend likes to have a drink before bed—a real drink.
It’s usually a beer.
He likes the fact that the alcohol seems to help him get to sleep.
What he doesn’t like is that he tends to wake up a few hours later and then has trouble falling back to sleep, leaving him groggy the next morning!
In fact, most experts agree that alcoholic beverages (along with caffeinated beverages and energy drinks) are among the worst drinks to have before bed. So what should we all be sipping on instead that might help us get to sleep and stay asleep??
A new study points to an unusual choice—nonalcoholic beer.
Before reading this study, I never thought that nonalcoholic beer might convey health benefits, but these findings are making me reconsider.
For the study, Spanish researchers evaluated subjects’ sleep amount and quality using actigraphy, a wrist sensor that detects motion during sleep/wake cycles. During the first week of the study (the control week), subjects drank whatever they normally drank at dinner (but keep in mind, in Spain, dinner is around 10:00 pm or 10:30 pm). These subjects usually drank a glass of milk because they were all teetotalers (and none drank nonalcoholic beer). During the next two weeks, subjects stopped drinking whatever they normally drank at dinner and instead each drank one 12-ounce bottle of nonalcoholic beer (San Miguel, a Spanish brand).
Results: The subjects slept better during the weeks that they drank alcohol-free beer. Not only did they fall asleep an average of 12 minutes faster, but they experienced 27% fewer movements while sleeping—meaning less tossing and turning. As a bonus, they also reported feeling less anxious during those weeks—probably because they were sleeping better.
THE SLEEPY-TIME SECRET
Researchers believe that it’s the bitter resins in hop compounds, botanical ingredients (they’re from a flower, actually) used in brewing for their aroma, that do the trick. Hop compounds have sedative properties, soothing the central nervous system by raising levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This helps explain why nonalcoholic beer may help you not only get to sleep but sleep soundly and stay asleep—it has the hop compounds that make you drowsy, but not the alcohol that wakes you up later. (Technically speaking, nonalcoholic beers do have a tiny bit of alcohol in them—a bottle of O’Douls, for example, has 0.4%—but since a bottle of regular beer, such as Budweiser, has about 5%, it’s not much.)
Lead author and graduate researcher Lourdes Franco said that Americans would be best off drinking a nonalcoholic beer roughly an hour before bed to get the most effect, though she noted that hop compounds remain in your system all night.
She was surprised that it took only one nonalcoholic beer per night to impact sleep—and she’d recommend this habit to almost anyone needing help falling and/or staying asleep.
WHO SHOULD AVOID NONALCOHOLIC BEER?
There are a few groups of people that may want to stay away from nonalcoholic beer, Franco noted.
People with celiac disease—those who can’t properly digest gluten (the protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye)—should keep their distance, since most nonalcoholic (and alcoholic) beers contain gluten. Until Spain’s Ambar Green beer becomes widely available in the US, celiacs will have trouble finding a beer that’s both nonalcoholic and almost entirely gluten-free, unfortunately.
If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and you’re limiting carbs to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, be aware that nonalcoholic beer has roughly 13 grams of carbs, which is about the same amount that you’d get in a regular (nonlight) beer. (For comparison, a 12-ounce can of Coke has about 41 grams of carbs and an eight-ounce glass of apple juice has about 29 grams of carbs.)
For people who can safely drink nonalcoholic beer, there are lots of choices. Since it’s the hop compounds in the beer that you’re after, you’ll want to know which brands have the most—but when I called Keith Lemcke, vice president of Siebel Institute of Technology and marketing director of World Brewing Academy in Chicago, a school for the brewing sciences that’s been around for 130 years, he said that all nonalcoholic beers have approximately the same level of hop compounds. In other words, it doesn’t matter which brand you choose—any is likely to help you get to dreamland!