Wine and sleep

I drink wine most nights. And in reasonable, but not excessive quantities. But on the nights when I go to bed without drinking, my sleep is different. First of all, I take a lot longer to go to sleep. And second, I remember my dreams much more vividly. This may be because I dream more, or it may be because the quality of my sleep is different. Who knows?

Dreams are strange. They are often quite vivid, and they aren’t simply replays of the day’s events. It is as if the brain is able to construct realistic perceptions and then deliver them to the un- or semi-conscious mind. This raises the question: why does the brain do this? And if a mechanism exists for constructing ‘reality’, what is its function?

Is it that our perception of what is ‘real’ is generated by the brain using a mix of real time sensory stimuli and memory, so that what we are experiencing is not reality, but instead a model of reality that to us, for all intents and purposes, is reality?

That is, what we perceive is subject to some background tinkering and interpretation by our brains before we are even aware of it. Our brains have a special facility to create ‘reality’ based on what is really there, using a mixture of inputs from our senses, interpreted in light of our memory and understanding, extracting out of a mass of sensory data a more easily understandable version of what is out there.

In this sense, we may each be privy to our own finely tuned version of what is ‘out there’. It would explain why people can have such differing perceptions of the same event. Sensory input is already loaded with meaning that is conferred upon it by specialised brain mechanisms. This is why we are able to attribute motives and even emotions, for example, to a simple animation of a large square being ‘attacked’ by a number of small triangles. We see crudely drawn cartoon animations, and are able to fill in the rest – we can even empathize with stick figures.

What do you think about dreams?

13 comments to Wine and sleep

  • TommyB

    Have you been drinking again??!

  • jamiegoode

    fair comment, but this was a totally sober post – as most are!

  • Simon T

    do Man City actually win in your dreams Jamie ! :-)

  • jamiegoode

    sometimes I’m playing for them! and, yes, they almost always do.

    cup replay tomorrow night

  • Daniel

    This post reminded me to look up once more this excellent blog from a young neuroscientist who is a contributing editor at Wired magazine:

    http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/

  • Not sure I have ever gone to bed without drinking wine,except when had hip op and was bitten by a violin spider!!
    must say I slept well after both events.
    If I do dream I can never remember them–maybe an age thing.

  • jamiegoode

    Daniel, I agree, Jonah Lehrer’s blog is fantastic – required reading

  • Consuming alcohol before bedtime is usually associated with snoring because it relaxes the throat muscles. Snoring is result of breathing problems or sleep apnea, which results in hangover the next day, while the body tries to metabolise the alcohol.

    In a nutshell, wine is to be avoided in the evening and if one must, it has to be consumed together with loads food and water. I usually have a glass or two with my dinner, that’s all.

  • jamiegoode

    Plamen, ‘wine is to be avoided in the evening’ – that’s just not possible!

  • Ben Coffman

    Interesting post, Jamie. I find that without alcohol, I find it harder to go to sleep but that I sleep more deeply. I’ve not been aware of it affecting my dreams. I have noticed as I have got older that cheese, especially hard cheese, now affects my dreams a lot. If I have cheese in an evening, I get very vivid dreams. This definitely didn’t happen in my twenties.

  • TommyB

    I think dreams can tell us a lot – If I don’t have any drinks of an evening at all (of which is only about 2 nights a week) I find that I feel more tired earlier and fall to sleep quite easily and that the sleep is very deep; to the point where I rarely dream at all. I rarely remember my dreams, but when I go they are really intense, with usually lots of things happening in them! I think they address concerns or desires in ones life maybe..?

  • I enjoyed this post and it took me back to my undergrad days of Freud and Jung despite the ascent of neuropsychological and constructionist models. The notion of dreams being ‘replays’ or representations which are perhaps also literally(thought as a symbolic set of interacting constructions) as well as metaphorically symbolic (a cigar) does not rule out them being essentially processing ‘noise’. As jamie points out, maybe alcohol simply influences the volume control/quality of sleep/clarity of recall or other variable. It definitely kills brain cells.

    There is scope here for a fun experiment involving dream diaries and tasting notes analysed for any correlations (causality even) that might emerge. Australian Shiraz and dreams of fruit driven Kangaroos. Ice wine and polar landscapes. Or maybe not.

    Jonah’s blog is good. Try gladwell.com and mindhacks too http://www.mindhacks.com/ plus a shameless plug for my very amateur site winepsych.com and forthcoming article in GRAPEStalk mag

    Regards

    Miles

    Jamie it would be good to meet at a tasting sometime or perhaps during a Brighton v Man City cup final where the seagulls turn over the nouveau riche blues (‘citizens’ is the proper term isn’t it?). maybe its time for me to wake up.

  • Mark T

    I sleep quite a bit better without alcohol. Still not well, but better. Go to sleep straightaway as usual, but I wake up more and earlier after drinking a few glasses of wine.

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