Study: Binge drinking at happy hour can affect sleep and work

Think happy hours help you unwind after work? Think again. A new study shows how a single binge drinking episode affects the gene that regulates sleep.

Photo: Helena Lopes

Think happy hours help you unwind after work? Think again. A new study shows how a single binge drinking episode affects the gene that regulates sleep.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Previous one in six U.S. adults binge drinks at least four times a month. This statistic may include those Friday happy hours you’re enjoying with coworkers.

Now, new findings from the University of Missouri School of Medicine explain how even a single episode of binge drinking can affect the gene that regulates sleep, leading to sleep disruption in mice. The study’s primary author is Mahesh M. Thakkar, Ph.D., Professor, and Director of Research, Dept. of Neurology, University of Missouri School of Medicine.

Thakkar isn’t saying not to socialize with coworkers but says remain aware of how many drinks you’re having.

“Limit yourself and practice moderation,” Thakkar says. “Our research suggests that a single episode of binge drinking (five drinks) affects sleep. Thus, moderation or drinking two drinks may have minimal effects on sleep. Also refraining from drinking alcohol on consecutive days will prevent alcohol tolerance development.”

Binge-drinking can lead to sleep disturbances

To prove the research, a mouse model was used, and Thakkar monitored the effect of binge drinking on sleep patterns. Thakkar found mice exposed to binge drinking experienced a significant increase in non-rapid eye movement sleep four hours post-binge, followed by increased wakefulness and reduced sleep during subsequent sleep periods. Thakkar also discovered post-binge mice did not experience an increase in a sleep-promoting chemical, adenosine, in the brain nor increased sleep pressure during sleep deprivation. The research also revealed binge alcohol consumption affects the gene that regulates sleep, resulting in sleep disturbances.

“What we have shown in this research is that a particular gene — which is very important for sleep homeostasis — is altered by just one session of binge drinking,” Thakkar said. “We were not expecting this. We thought it would be affected after multiple sessions of binge drinking, not one. That tells you that as soon as you consume four drinks, it can alter your genes.”

In addition to sleep disturbances, Thakker discussed the after-effects of binge drinking.

Thakker says binge drinking “profoundly” impacts job performance. “Imagine going to work feeling very sleepy because you did not have good night sleep,” adds Thakker. “Thinking, decision making even things like driving become difficult.”

So, the next time there’s a work outing with alcohol, limit drinks to two and call it a night.

Erica Lamberg|is a business, health, and travel writer whose work appears in Gannett, US News & World Report, Bankrate, MSN, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Reader’s Digest and NBC News