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Why does red wine make you sleepy?

​You probably haven’t noticed, but the last time I wrote about wine was two months ago. I’m not entirely sure how to explain this unusual hiatus.

It certainly isn’t that I have abandoned my passion for wine – quite the opposite, actually. When I moved to Seattle at the end of May, I challenged myself to explore everything the Pacific North-West has to offer, which has meant spending countless evenings at bars and restaurants (it has been as awful as it sounds).

It equally isn’t that I have lost interest in writing – again, the antithesis appears to be true. My inner author has ostensibly collided with my inner political scientist, resulting in a barrage of subjective, incendiary, and occasionally sarcastic political commentary on my Facebook page. On an almost daily basis. Er, sorry about that.

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As much as I relish an explosive debate every now and then, I feel my blood pressure would benefit from less introspection on the deplorable state of geopolitical affairs and more attention on a subject that isn’t so vexing. So, until the Financial Times fulfils my implausible fantasy of offering me a column for my periodic opining, I should probably go back to writing about wine.

That explains why I spent time this weekend sprawled across my sofa, plotting my grand return to oeno-writing, sipping on some sauvignon blanc. Frustratingly, the voices in my head were uncharacteristically silent and the liquid stimulus failed to wake them up. I know when to give up and turn on Netflix.

Fortunately, inspiration strikes when you least expect it – in my case during a hair cut. The stylist casually remarked that red wine makes her feel sleepy – a comment I often hear when friends describe the effect of wine on their disposition.

But is there any scientific truth behind it?  …kind of.


All wine – regardless of colour – can make you feel sleepy.
Scientists have discovered that the skin, seeds, and flesh of the grape contain melatonin. This is the “sleep hormone” that is naturally secreted by the brain at night, telling your body that it’s time to hit the hay.

The effect is more potent with red wine.
Red wine has much more contact with the skin of grape during the production process, so it stands to reason that it typically has higher levels of melatonin.

So why doesn’t non-alcoholic grape juice make you feel sleepy too?
When wine is fermented (a.k.a. when the sugar in the juice is converted to alcohol), melatonin levels rise – which explains why a glass of non-alcoholic grape juice doesn’t make you feel as drowsy as that pinot noir you so cherish.

However, in reality, your drowsiness is probably not just a factor of the wine.
One sleeping pill contains about 10,000 times more melatonin than one glass of red – so even if you knock back the whole bottle (I know you’ve done that before) it probably isn’t enough to induce you into a sleep coma. There are evidently other factors at play: it could be that you’re probably drinking the wine at the end of a long day so you may already be tired, or the fact that alcohol is a depressant which means that any type of booze should make you feel sleepy.

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Homer – the Ancient Greek poet, not the Simpson – is credited with saying: “when a man is tired, wine is a great restorer of strength”.

I wonder if he would eat his words if he knew about melatonin?

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