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Asking for a Friend

Does Passing Out Drunk Count as Deep Sleep?

Because it sure as hell feels like it.

Logo by Kitron Neuschatz; image courtesy of Derek Mead

The scenario: Your "friend" ends up at the bar most nights, where one drink has a way of morphing into seven followed by 2 AM instant noodles and a faceplant that could be described either as "losing consciousness" or "sleep," depending on how honest you're being with yourself—erm, he's being with himself.

The hope: He's still getting his beauty rest.

The reality: Yes, alcohol makes you conk out faster—and it might feel like deep sleep. But then something called the rebound effect kicks in: "Once your body has metabolized the alcohol and the sedative effect wears off, you get micro-arousals that disrupt your sleep cycle," Holly Phillips, an internist and the author of The Exhaustion Breakthrough, told VICE. The number of drinks it takes to get yourself to this point varies per person, but more than one or two right before bed is likely going to put you in the sleep-disturbance zone.

Normally you cycle between four stages of increasingly deep sleep followed by the rapid-eye movement kind (REM), which is when your brain synthesizes everything from the day and stores it in your long-term memory bank. After a bunch of beers, however, you keep waking up in—and repeating—sleep stages I and II, which are the lightest and therefore easiest to stir from. This means less deep and REM sleep—a.k.a. a shitty night's rest, and poor (if any) memory consolidation. "Plus, alcohol makes you pee, which can wake you up in the middle of the night," Phillips said. "And it's dehydrating, so you'd feel more tired the next day even if you weren't getting lighter sleep."

There's reason to believe that depleted REM in the long-term is terrible for more than just your memory. While there've been no documented cases of anyone dying from forced lack of sleep, people with a very rare disease that renders them unable to sleep, called Fatal Family Insomnia, usually die within 7 to 36 months of developing the condition (though scientists aren't entirely sure why). Rats forcibly deprived of REM sleep die within five weeks. (Side note: Propofol, the drug Michael Jackson overdosed on, prevented him from entering REM for 60 nights, which some doctors think would have killed him had he not OD'd.)

What to do: Hate to break it to you, but if you've had more than a couple drinks before bed, no amount of carb eating, Gatorade drinking, or cold showering is going to help you get better rest. If you're unlikely to cut yourself off after that second glass, try switching to water three hours before bed. Something for your buddy to aim for, anyway.