It's been a rough day at work, and it's time to wind down. In looking for a way to detach from your stress, you might have a drink to take the edge off.
The problem is, not only does alcohol diminish your capacity to adapt to stress by reducing your sleep quality and increasing inflammation, but, according to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, it's shrinking your brain.
Let's start with how alcohol impacts sleep. Yes, alcohol is a relaxing agent that may put you to sleep faster, but research demonstrates that when you fall asleep, the quality of your sleep is greatly diminished.
A 2018 study with more than 4,000 subjects found that alcohol intake was dose-dependently associated with disturbances in the autonomic nervous system,
measured via heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a standard metric used by popular wearable devices to quantify recovery.
Fewer than two servings of alcohol per day for men and one serving per day for women reduced HRV-derived recovery by 9.3 percent.
Not only does chronic alcohol consumption decrease your sleep quality but it increases systemic inflammation and can cause organ damage. And one of those organs is your brain.
New research leveraging the UK Biobank and MRI data from more than 36,000 adults reveals that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption of just one to two daily units was associated with reductions in global brain volume.
These changes in brain volume were equivalent to the effect of aging two years, and an increase from two to three daily units was equivalent to aging 3.5 years.
Optic flow is a pattern of motion in which objects move past you in the visual field. Going for a walk, jog, or cycling outside puts you in a state of optic flow, which has a powerful effect on your nervous system.
Our bodies are equipped with a unique neurological system that enables us to move up and down a continuum of stress and relaxation.
Finally, simply taking a few moments at the end of the day to take note of the good things in your life can profoundly impact your well-being.