A liquor store sign in the 1950's style.

Q. My husband frequently has a nightcap before going to bed. He says Scotch relaxes him and helps him fall asleep. The only trouble is that he frequently wakes up in the middle of the night and then has a hard time getting back to sleep. That wakes me up and it ruins my sleep as well.

I suspect the nightcap is to blame, but he disagrees. He says he just has to get up to urinate. Can you settle this argument please?

A. This question is more complicated than it seems. Conventional wisdom is that alcohol before bed helps people fall asleep but disrupts sleep in the second half of the night. There’s surprisingly little research on this issue, however.

For even more information on getting the sleep you both need, you may want to listen to our recent radio show on sleep, #878, Solving the Sleep Dilemma. It is available as a free download until Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. After that, the download will cost $2.99.

The best study we could find examined sleep in 20 healthy people, half of whom were insomniacs. A modest dose of alcohol before bed did not seem to have a negative impact on sleep later in the night (Neuropsychopharmacology, March, 1999). On the other hand, it didn’t make people fall asleep faster either.

Many men do have to get up at night to urinate because of an enlarged prostate. Your husband’s doctor may be able to assess this and prescribe a drug to ease this symptom if it is waking him.

Our Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep offers many suggestions for help in falling asleep, including non-drug alternatives. Some readers have found that insomnia is linked to vitamin D deficiency and that correcting the deficiency helps with sleep.

Another reader suggested the following: “Try this ‘cocktail:’

450 mg valerian root

200 mcg selenium

400 mg magnesium

3mg melatonin (though I prefer the 2.5mg sub-lingual-faster acting)

I’m an insomniac since my open-heart, mitral valve repair in 2007.

My son told me to try the above, since it worked for him.

I am sleeping like a baby, once again. Even when I wake @ ‘3-to-pee,’ I go right back to sleep…amazing!”

Your husband may want to experiment with this combination of supplements. He should keep in mind that the tolerable upper dose of selenium is 400 mcg/day, just twice what this reader is using.

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  1. RML

    Re Nightcap may not………… Sounds to me that he needs to take a sleep test. Maybe Sleep Apnea. That was my problem and a CPAP machine the solution.
    Re frequent urination……………Join the club!!

  2. jan

    You may be reversing the cause/effect situation with getting up during the night to urinate. The problem may not be an enlarged prostate causing him to get up at night. The problem may be the alcohol (caffeine, etc.) causing him to wake up; when he’s awake, he urinates.

  3. cpmt

    In doctor OZ program had an alert about taking melatonin, some people are very sensitive, and if taking for long time can cause the contrary desired effects.

  4. Karen

    Frankly, this question is simply not that hard to test. Sleep with liquor for a week, sleep without liquor for a week. (Agree that something like the relaxation cocktail is worth a shot. For me, magnesium alone does the trick.)
    The larger unaddressed question is that if this guy can’t take a week without his nightcap, how much else is he drinking and how important is the liquor part to him?

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