Even though pubs, bars, and clubs are closed, and people are confined to their homes, the demand for sippers has not abated – UK sales of alcohol increased by up to 66% in parts of March compared to the previous year, reported the Economist. (1)
People are drinking indoors to pass the time, to abate boredom, as morale boosters, and to maintain sanity by harking back nostalgically to previous patterns of socialising. Whether with your housemates or on a video call with friends – a drink has made for an excellent accessories. There’s even a name for it – ‘On-nomi’ – a Japanese trend for drinking online, turning your self-isolation room into a personal pub. (2)
However, it’s key to note that drinking alcohol can weaken your immune system and leave you more vulnerable to infection…
Alcohol disrupts immune pathways in complex and seemingly paradoxical ways. These disruptions can impair the body’s ability to defend against infection, contribute to organ damage associated with alcohol consumption, and impede recovery from tissue injury.
There are many ways in which alcohol does this. (3)
Drinking also throws your immune system out of balance – as shown in a study that found binge drinking had the effect of decreasing the number of white blood cells (monocytes) – which fight infections – in the hours after peak intoxication, which effectively means a weakening of your immune system. (4)
This all comes to say that drinking has the effect of decreasing the defensive mechanisms your body needs to fend off threats to your system – be that a bacterial or viral infection.
Though many still have a glass to lull them to sleep, it has long been known that alcohol might make you drowsier, but decreases the quality of your sleep.
This effect is seen at any level of alcohol consumption. A large Finnish study covering 4,098 men and women aged between 18 and 65 highlights this. Even as little as one drink was shown to impact sleep quality – it decreased the physiological recovery normally provided by sleep by 9.3 percent. Moderate alcohol consumption lowered restorative sleep quality by 24 percent, and high alcohol intake by as much as 39.2 percent.(5) You could sleep 8 hours – however with a 40% decrease in the quality of your sleep, you will likely feel as if you only slept 4.8 hours. No wonder you wake up exhausted after a heavy night…
Not to mention the fact that when you’ve had a few drinks you are likely to go to sleep later than you usually would anyways as you ignore your normal bodily cues to sleep in order to socialise or otherwise – which in itself will most likely decrease the physical hours you will sleep (if you have to wake up at a certain time), alongside the effects of sleep displacement on your circadian rhythm, leaving you feeling even more tired.
How does this relate to immunity?
A decrease in the quality and/or quantity of your sleep has dramatic effects on your immune strength. A study found that participants with less than 7 hours of sleep were 2.94 times more likely to develop a cold than those with 8 hours or more of sleep. (6) Not a statistical blip – 3 times more likely to catch a virus! And even more dramatic regarding quality, which correlates to sleep efficiency: participants with less than 92% sleep efficiency were 5.50 times more likely to develop a cold than those with 98% or more efficiency. 5.5 times more likely to catch a virus! (6)