Alcohol and Sleep – Everything You Need To Know

Updated On: 26 January 2021

By: Mattress In A Box Reviews

We know, alcohol - particularly in Western culture, is a big part of social life. 

From your Friday work drinks, to a nightcap, even to a glass of wine with dinner - alcohol is a part of many people’s daily life. 🍷

So do these weekly rituals have an affect on your sleep? Unfortunately, they most likely do. 😔 

Alcohol and Sleep

However, we’ve put together for you everything you need to know about alcohol and sleep. 

Including the effects of alcohol on sleep, alcohol's relation to different disorders and the best times to have a drink without affecting your sleep.

Does Alcohol Help You Sleep?

Why Alcohol Makes You Sleepy 😴

Alcohol is a well known sedative. Meaning it depresses the central nervous system. 

Yes, it can make you a little more drowsy and a lot more relaxed, making you feel as though you’ll have the best night’s sleep of your life. 

Most people who have had a few before bed can testify that for even a little why, they’re out like a light. 

Why It Also Keeps You Up 

Research has now shown that people who consume alcohol before they sleep, wake up during the first part of their sleep. 

However, once the temporary effect of alcohol wears off - it has the opposite effect. 

This means that during the second part of sleep you’re more likely to experience disruption, reduction of sleep time and impairing the quality of your overall sleep. 

Should It Be Used As A Sleep Aid?

Think having a nightcap before bed is a good idea? 🥃

Think again. 

Alcohol has a disruptive effect on your sleep.

Not only the quantity of it, but also the quality of it. There are more than just one reason as to why having a drink before bed is a bad idea. 

Here’s a few reasons why it's not the best idea to have a cold one before hitting the sack 🍺

Stages Of Sleep (Less REM Sleep) 🕰

REM stands for ‘Rapid Eye Movement’, and yep you guessed it - it’s the sleep in which our eyes are most rapidly moving back and forth. 👀

During REM sleep, not only do your eyes move rapidly but also your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure become the most similar to that when we’re awake. 

REM sleep is also when we dream, making it the deepest part of our sleep. 

So what does non-REM sleep look like?

During non-REM sleep, you’ll sleep in a lighter state. Meaning, your brain activity, breathing and heart beat also slow down. 

This is also when your muscles begin to relax just that little bit more. 

What Is A Normal Sleep Pattern/ What Does A Normal Night Of Sleep Look Like? 🤷🏼‍♀️

Normal sleep patterns will depend on various factors including weight, age and whether or not you have any medical issues that may affect your sleep patterns. 

However, generally there are four stages of sleep:

  1. The transition from wakefulness to sleep - this period is non-REM sleep
  2. Light non-REM sleep, just before you head into a deep sleep
  3. non- REM deep sleep. This part of the sleep cycle is super important in ensuring we wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated
  4. REM sleep which generally occurs 90 mins after falling asleep for the healthy adult
Does Alcohol Help You Sleep?

Impact On Sleep Patterns:

Firstly, a night of drinking can keep you in the deep sleep part of the cycle, more than you usually would. 

Think this doesn’t sound so bad? 

Think again.🙅🏾‍♂️

The more time you spend in deep sleep, the less you spend in REM sleep. REM sleep is the crucial restorative sleep which our bodies need to restore and replenish. 💪🏽

Alcohol is also a diuretic. 

Diu-what?

A diuretic is a substance that promotes the production of urine in the body, meaning that your body will rid itself quickly of any excess fluid, including through sweat - making you dehydrated.


Effects Of Alcohol On Sleep

How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

Almost 1 in 5 Americans rely on alcohol to help them sleep, when in reality they are doing more damage to their sleep than aiding it. 

Do you need to refrain from drinking at all in order to have a good night’s sleep? 

Nope. (Even though we would suggest it for overall health and cognitive function). 🧠 

It does mean though in order for alcohol to not disrupt your sleep, it should be regulated. 

How Alcohol Affects Circadian Rhythms And Why It Matters To Your Health (Disrupted Circadian Rhythm)

Your circadian rhythm is the natural process inside you that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, and rotates itself based on the Earth’s 24 hour cycle. 🌏

Pretty cool right?Yep. That’s also what jet lag is - the extreme change in this rhythm, because by travelling a great distance you’re aligned with a new 24 hour cycle. ✈️

Ahh our bodies never cease to amaze me. 

Okay back to the point, how does alcohol disrupt your circadian rhythm? 

Alcohol directly interferes with your bodies ability to regulate itself and synchronize its biological clock. 

Because our circadian rhythm has such an important role in how we function, any disruption has quite a significant effect on our bodies. 

These effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Poor liver function 
  • Leaky gut 
  • Depression and
  • Disrupted sleep-wake cycles

Disrupted Sleep-Wake Cycles

Whilst it may seem like a good idea to have a glass of wine before bed, or a cool beer before bed during summer - you should probably question your choice of nightcap before sleeping. 

Alcohol is highly effective in suppressing melatonin. 

Mela-what? 

Melatonin is a hormone released mostly by the pineal gland (little pea shaped gland in the brain), that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. 

Research is now showing that even a moderate dose of alcohol before bed can reduce melatonin production by up to 20%. 📉

Evidence also shows that alcohol directly interferes with the body’s sleep regulator. Alcohol increases the body’s level of adenosine. 📈

Adenosine rises naturally in the body the longer you’ve been awake, and it prevents the impact of other chemicals in the body that promote wakefulness. 

Sounds like adenosine isn’t such a bad thing when it comes to sleeping?

Actually, an increase in adenosine when your body isn’t naturally ready to sleep can have a dramatic effect on your sleep-wake cycle, forcing you to sleep at times your body wouldn’t naturally do so.

Effects Of Alcohol On Sleep

What It Does To Your Sleep Cycles

It may seem at this point, that due to the fact that alcohol increases adenosine levels in the body, alcohol before bed may not be so bad for the sleep cycle.

Wrong. 

Once the sedative effect of alcohol wears off, and it starts to metabolise - that’s when it becomes dangerous to your sleep cycle. 

Dr Vesel Rundo highlights that alcohol in your system whilst sleeping, keeps you in lighter stages of sleep - not allowing you to enter the REM sleep your body desperately needs. 

Dr Rundo also highlights that alcohol will affect the quality and quantity of your sleep, “you’ll likely wake up more easily and more frequently in the second part of the night”.

Forces You Out Of Bed (Getting Up To Go To The Bathroom)

An unexpected and often unanticipated effect of alcohol before bed is the effect it can have on more frequent urination. 🚽

Alcohol has a diuretic effect which causes the body to release water, generally in the form of urine. 

Yes, regardless of what you drink before bed - it is likely, you will get up in the night to go to the bathroom. 

However, as alcohol is a diuretic it is going to increase the volume and rate at which your body expels fluid - no thanks. 🤚🏽


Effects Of Alcohol On Daytime Alertness And Function

The effects of alcohol on individuals, particularly on daytime alertness and function, is not a one size fits all answer. 

The way alcohol affects an individual is impact by various factors including, but not limited to:

  • How much alcohol is consumed
  • Age
  • Height 
  • Weight 
  • Gender and
  • Overall health

The effects of alcohol on daytime alertness and function can be broken into two categories, long term and short term effects

In small doses and moderation, alcohol can bring about feelings of wellness and happiness. 😊 

It can also provide a little liquid courage if you can’t quite get the courage to approach that cute guy/ girl you’ve been eyeing all night. 😉

But any more than just a little, and the effects start to get a little yucky. 

The short term effects of alcohol can be summarised as:

  • Impaired judgment & movement
  • Slurred speech
  • Unstable emotions
  • Impaired balance, reflexes and coordination
  • Nausea and vomiting 🤢
  • Memory loss and
  • Possible loss of consciousness
Effects Of Alcohol On Daytime Alertness And Function

We get it, in moderation alcohol is seemingly fine.

But before we conclude that it's okay to have a little alcoholic sleep aid before you hit the sack, check out these long-term effects of consistent alcohol consumption. 

Consistent consumption of alcohol increases your risk of, and can lead to:

  • Mental health issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Diabetes and weight gain
  • Impotence
  • Cancers (bowel, breast, stomach, mouth, throat, liver and esophageal)
  • Fertility issues
  • Brain damage 
  • Heart issues and
  • Liver failure

Are we saying to never have another drink?

No. 🙅🏾‍♂️

Are we saying drinking occasionally in moderation will send you spiralling into a pit of health issues?

Absolutely not. 👎🏿

But are we saying that drinking every night to make sleeping a little easier won’t come with other consequences other than crappy sleep?

Nup. 

If you need a drink before bed, it could be a good idea to swap that night cap with a chamomile tea and honey! 🍯


Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On Sleep

It's important to remember that anything in excess isn’t good for you. 

Constant consumption of alcohol, particularly before bed can have a more negative impact on your sleep than just feeling a little drowsy in the morning. 

As mentioned, alcohol before bed can mess up your sleep cycle, and prevent you from getting into REM sleep. 

Consistently missing REM cycles can lead to severe sleep deprivation. 

The impacts of sleep deprivation on the body can be quite detrimental to noy only physical health, but also your mental and emotional health. 

The effects of sleep deprivation can include:

Memory Issues 🧠

Whilst you're sleeping your brain creates connections that help you process and remember information, without proper sleep these connections become weak and can’t be formed properly. 

Mood Changes 😖

Sleep deprivation can make you moody, quick tempered and overly emotional… who needs that. 

Weakened Immune System 🤧

Little sleep weakens your immune system. Meaning, your body isn’t as easily able to fight off those nasty bugs that cause common colds or flus. 

Increase Risk Of Diabetes

Lack of sleep affects your body's release of insulin, a hormone that lowers blood sugar. 

People who have less sleep have lower blood sugar levels, increasing risk for type 2 diabetes. 

Trouble With Daily Tasks

The truth is, and we probably don’t need to tell you this - but when you don’t get enough sleep, your thinking, problem solving and overall critical thinking are impaired. 

Trouble With Daily Tasks

Risk Of Car Accidents 🚗

Due to the fact that your ability to think properly is compromised when you don’t get enough sleep, your risk of car accident is dramatically increased. 

More than one Australian dies in a car accident every day due to fatigue. 😔

Weight Gain

When you sleep, the chemicals your body sends to your brain to tell it to stop eating because you’re full are off balance. ⚖

Because of this, your body isn’t actually sure when it's full and because of this you’re likely to overindulge. 🍫 🍿 🍩 🍪 🍦

Heart Disease 

Sleep deprivation can be linked to increased blood pressure, and increases the chemicals which are linked to inflammation. 

Both of these are directly linked to heart disease.


Alcohol And Sleep Apnea

Firstly, what is sleep apnea? 🤷🏽‍♀️

Sleep apnea is a potentially very dangerous sleep disorder where breathing whilst sleeping stops and starts. 

If you’re new to knowing sleep apnea, you probably don’t know there are three types:

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea
  2. Central sleep apnea and
  3. Complex sleep apnea syndrome

Each type of sleep apnea shows itself differently, however the one thing they all have in common - is their ability to affect a good night’s sleep. 

In short, alcohol directly affects sleep apnea events and their duration. ⏰

Effects On Breathing And Snoring

Alcohol relaxes your muscles and decreases your arousal response time.

What is an arousal time and why is it important?

The arousal time is how your body knows it should wake itself up, because of a blocked airway. 🚨

Alcohol actually increases the time your body takes to process that it can longer breathe, therefore taking a longer time to wake you up. 

This also means you’ll also be without oxygen for longer, dropping the oxygen levels in your body.

Lower levels of oxygen in the blood, means increased levels of carbon dioxide, which in severe cases can be fatal. 

Snoring is a key symptom of sleep apnea, and as we’ve already discussed - alcohol worsens the symptoms of sleep apnea. 

Snoring is no exception. 

Additionally, research indicates that those who snored, their snoring increased with the consumption of alcohol.

Alcohol And Sleep Apnea

Should Sleep Apnea Sufferers Avoid Alcohol?

Whilst alcohol doesn’t directly cause sleep apnea, regular and consistent drinking puts you at higher risk of developing sleep apnea.

It also makes current episodes of sleep apnea more severe, particularly Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

The most effective way to avoid developing sleep apnea, is to avoid drinking altogether. 


Alcohol And Insomnia

Before we discuss the complicated relationship status of alcohol and insomnia, we should probably clarify what insomnia is just so we’re all on the same page. 

Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep at night, or the inability to fall into a deep and restorative sleep. 

Causes for insomnia can include:

  • Stress 😫
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Eating too much and too late
  • Mental disorders
  • Medical conditions
  • Caffeine or alcohol too late in the evening ☕️

Indicators that you may have insomnia - you can’t, or have trouble falling asleep. 

If you constantly wake up feeling exhausted, you may also want to consider it as a potential issue - although there are many other possible causes. 

20% of American adults will use alcohol to help them fall asleep when having issues. 

This means that 20% of Americans are making their problem worse. 

As we’ve discussed, alcohol prevents you from entering into and achieving REM sleep. 

So… here goes the cycle…

  1. You can’t sleep
  2. To help you sleep, you have a little alcohol 
  3. You fall asleep but can’t achieve a REM sleep 
  4. Wake up exhausted and unrefreshed
  5. Still tired 😴

And so the cycle continues. 

See the problem? 

The good news is, insomnia is a very treatable disorder. One of the best ways to aid the situation, is to stay clear of alcohol - particularly before bed. 🛏


Alcohol And Sleep FAQ

Does Alcohol Before Bed Cause Vivid Dreams And Nightmares?

Whilst alcohol doesn’t cause vivid dreams and nightmares (obviously), they will increase the likelihood of them. 

Whilst you may not remember these dreams, they can be lucid and give you the feeling that you’re half awake and half asleep. 

Will Alcohol Affect My Breathing Whilst I Sleep?

In short, yes.

Its temporary sedative effect extends all the way to your muscles, including your airways. 

Does Alcohol Cause Sleep Apnea?

Research shows that alcohol does not cause sleep apnea, which is the good news. 👍🏼

The bad news however, is that frequent alcohol drinkers are at higher risk of developing sleep apnea than those who don’t drink frequently.

Does Alcohol Affect Men And Women Differently?

If we follow the general rule, women usually show signs of intoxication earlier and with lower doses than what men do. 

The main reason for this is that women usually weigh less than men making the intoxication process quicker. 

Women generally have lower amounts of water in their bodies than men.

Alcohol travels through the body using water, and because of this women are more likely to have a higher alcohol blood count after consuming the same alcohol as men.

Woman Drinking

Will Moderate Drinking Affect My Sleep?

The dietary guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as up to one standard drink for women, and up to one standard drink for men. 

Sleeping before bed, even moderately can still impact your sleep.

Studies have shown that even a low consumption of alcohol impact recovery provided from sleep by roughly 9.4%. 

Moderate consumption of alcohol impacted restorative sleep quality by a whopping 24%! 

Wowzers. 😱

How Long Should I Stop Drinking Before Bed?

Alcohol should stop being consumed around 4 hours or so before sleeping. ⏰ 

What Should I Do If I Feel Alcohol Is Affecting My Sleep? 

Simply cutting back on alcohol and any other drugs you may be taking can be enough to counter the negative effects on sleep. 💊

However, if you have recurring issues with sleep, it’s probably a good idea to see your doctor who can then refer you to a sleep specialist. 👩🏻‍🔬


Alcohol And Sleep In Summary

It’s important to remember that anything in moderation is healthy and even good. 

However, when it comes to alcohol and sleep, other factors need to be considered to ensure this balance isn’t disrupted. 

Avoiding alcohol particularly with disorders such as sleep apnea is crucial in ensuring episodes don’t get worse. 

Whilst avoiding alcohol before bed is generally best, should you decide to have a drink its best to have it over four hours before you hit the sack. 

We should also make it clear that we’re not saying alcohol is bad all the time.

Nor are we saying it's some evil beverage that will send you into a downward insomniac spiral. 🤯 

What we are saying, is that it's important to have all the facts before you have a drink before bed. 

After all, being prepared is the best way to avoid dealing with any adverse effects.


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