Were you ever tempted to have a drink before going to bed just to unwind and sleep better? Some studies have shown that there are no benefits to alcohol consumption. Even one daily drink could lead to long-term health problems. So keep reading and check out our guide to know more about how alcohol affects your sleep.
Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Your bloodstream absorbs your alcohol intake via the stomach and small intestine after consumption. Although the alcohol is finally metabolized by liver enzymes, excess alcohol will continue to circulate throughout the body because this process is somewhat slow.
Alcohol’s effects are quite individual. Significant variables to consider are the amount of alcohol ingested and the rate at which it is drunk. You should also consider the individual’s body type, sex, age, and current health condition.
Since the 1930s, the association between alcohol and sleep has been investigated, yet many aspects of this relationship remain unexplained. Sleepers who consume substantial amounts of alcohol before bedtime are frequently prone to delayed sleep onset, requiring a longer time to fall asleep.
As the alcohol is metabolized by liver enzymes and the blood alcohol level lowers over night, alcohol consumers are also more prone to have sleep interruptions and decreased sleep quality.
Does Alcohol Help Sleep?
According to a 27-study review, there is no evidence to suggest alcohol can improve an individual’s sleep quality. Alcohol, the researchers discovered, does help healthy people fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply for a time, but it also decreases rapid eye movement sleep.
And the more alcohol consumed before bedtime, the more prominent these effects are. We fall asleep after about an hour and a half, then we enter the cycle of REM sleep.
It is the stage of sleep during which individuals dream, and it is believed to be restorative. REM sleep disruption may result in daytime sleepiness, impaired concentration, and deprivation of necessary sleep time.
While alcohol may aid in sleep by inducing sleep, it is more disruptive to sleep. This is especially true for the second part of the night. Additionally, alcohol lowers breathing and may contribute to sleep apnea or periodic pauses in breathing during the night.
The more alcohol consumed before bedtime, the more severe the disruption. One to two standard beverages appear to have a negligible influence on sleep.
Pros and Cons of Drinking Alcohol Before Bed
There aren’t really that many benefits to drinking alcohol before bed. The two benefits that we could underline are only true for healthy people. Alcohol before bed might help them fall asleep faster and experience deeper sleep.
The negative effects of drinking alcohol before bed outweigh the benefits:
- Reduces REM sleep.
- Worsens the symptoms of sleep apnea.
- Interferes with melatonin secretion.
- Can create addiction.
- Can cause nightmares.
- Can cause parasomnia and sleepwalking.
- Leads to snoring and breathing problems.
How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Each night, your sleep is broken down into stages or cycles. Your deep, peaceful sleep is more widespread in the first several hours but diminishes significantly in the second half. Then, as the night progresses, REM takes over.
Having alcohol in your system before you go to bed, you may not sleep deeply or for an extended period and may wake up on and off throughout the night. That is because the sleepy impact of alcohol diminishes as it is metabolized.
This hinders you from achieving the necessary deep sleep and REM sleep, as the alcohol in your system maintains you in the lighter stages of sleep. You’re more than likely to wake up quickly and frequently, particularly in the night’s second half.
Alcohol elevates adenosine levels, a critical component of the homeostatic drive. This is responsible for maintaining the equilibrium of our bodies and is a major regulator of the sleep-wake cycle.
When we’re awake for an extended period, the homeostatic drive induces sleep by increasing adenosine levels.
Following a few drinks, these elevated adenosine levels induce a state of deep sleep. When the body recognizes that it has experienced too much slow-wave sleep, the homeostatic drive adjusts by allowing us to sleep less deeply in the second half of the night.
In the long run, regular disturbances to our natural sleep cycle may permanently change our homeostatic drive.
Long-term alcohol abusers do not appear to exhibit the deep recovery sleep that most people do following sleep deprivation, implying that the homeostatic drive is no longer functioning normally.
Different Stages of Sleep
Starting with 2007, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has classified sleep into four different stages.
Note: The first three sleep stages are known as NREM sleep, while the fourth one is labeled as REM sleep.
The initial stage of the sleep cycle is a phase of transition between waking and sleeping. Should you wake up during this period, they may claim to have been awake all along.
In this initial sleep stage, your brain begins to slow down. Your eye movements, heartbeat, and breathing all slow down as a result. Your whole body relaxes, and you’ll probably notice that your muscles twitch.
This brief slumber lasts approximately five to ten minutes. The brain is still highly active at this point, producing high-amplitude theta waves.
The American Sleep Foundation says adults spend roughly 50 percent of their total sleep time in NREM stage 2. This stage lasts approximately 20 minutes every cycle.
You lose awareness of your surroundings. Your core body temperature decreases. Your eye motions come to an end. Your respiration and heart rate become regular.
Additionally, the brain begins to generate bursts of rapid brain wave activity known as sleep spindles. They are believed to be a byproduct of memory consolidation, the process by which your brain absorbs, analyzes, and filters newly acquired memories from the previous day.
As all of this happens, your body prepares for the third and fourth sleep stages.
Delta waves are slow, deep brain waves. They begin to arise during NREM stage 3 sleep. In the scientific world, this stage is known as delta sleep. This is a time of profound sleep during which any external noises or activities may fail to awaken the sleeping individual.
Getting proper NREM stage 3 sleep enables you to feel rejuvenated the following day.
You’re relaxed in your muscles, blood pressure lowers and breathing becomes more labored. You enter your deepest sleep. During this period of profound sleep, your body begins to restore itself.
In this stage, your brain consolidates the information you learned throughout the day. That includes personal experiences, as well as general knowledge.
While your brain is stimulated mentally during REM sleep, your voluntary muscles become immobile in the fourth stage of sleep.
This is when your brain’s activity most closely mirrors that of the waking hours. Your body, on the other hand, is temporarily paralyzed. This is beneficial since it prevents you from acting out your dreams.
REM sleep starts roughly 90 minutes after initially falling asleep.
Your brain is a hive of activity. Your body falls into a pleasant state of relaxation and immobility. Breathing has become more rapid and erratic. Your eyes are constantly moving, and you spend a lot of time dreaming.
Consolidation of memory occurs during REM sleep, just as it does during stage 3. On the other hand, REM sleep is when the mind begins to process emotional memories.
Additionally, your brain uses this time to consolidate knowledge in memory, making it a critical stage of learning.
REM sleep is when your cells repair and the body secretes more hormones to promote muscle and bone growth. Your body also strengthens the immune system so that you can fight infections and viruses.
The Relationship Between Alcohol and Insomnia
Alcohol and sleeplessness are inextricably linked. Insomnia is a wretched sleep disorder where a person is unable to get a restful night’s sleep no matter what they do. This could indicate that they are not achieving a deep state of sleep, are waking multiple times during the night, or are unable to fall asleep in the first place.
Any of these options imply that the individual does not feel refreshed upon awakening. Daily, this does not appear to be a major concern.
However, it can significantly affect one’s mood, physical and mental health, energy, work performance, and overall quality of life in the long run.
For the most part, insomnia is easily treatable and, if identified early enough, can be completely prevented before any major damage occurs.
Unfortunately, many people attempt to self-medicate their sleeplessness by utilizing the calming properties of alcohol. However, drinking can significantly exacerbate the situation.
Indeed, alcohol can both promote and inhibit sleep. According to research, alcohol’s detrimental effect on sleep varies and is dose-dependent. Research has established a link between alcoholism and sleep-related illnesses such as insomnia.
Insomnia is estimated to affect between 36 and 91 percent of people who struggle with alcoholism, which is strikingly higher than the national average. Additionally, research has linked binge drinking to sleep disruption.
Awakeness is promoted by specific brain cells in the forebrain. Alcohol appears to operate as a depressant for the neurotransmitters that stimulate these brain cells. This can disrupt the entire sleep-wake cycle, causing insomnia and possibly predisposing a person to develop it.
• Alcohol and Sleep Apnea
Even without a diagnosis, there is a link between alcohol and sleep apnea. If you have an alcohol use issue, your risk of having OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) may be increased, especially in people who already snore.
For those who have OSA, the effects of sleep apnea become more severe when they drink, as alcohol can lengthen the duration between breathing stops and moments when you wake up to gasp for air.
As the severity of your symptoms increases, the drops in your blood’s oxygen levels referred to as desaturations, become more drastic. This might result in a rise in the body’s carbon dioxide levels, a condition known as hypercapnia, which can be fatal in severe cases.
Does Alcohol Affect Men and Women Differently?
Alcohol is absorbed and metabolized differently in women than in men. Women, on average, have less body water than men of comparable body weight, which results in women having greater blood alcohol concentrations after drinking equivalent amounts of alcohol.
Furthermore, women appear to remove alcohol from their bloodstreams more quickly than men. This conclusion could be explained by women having a larger liver capacity per unit lean body mass, as alcohol is almost totally processed in the liver.
Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related troubles than males are.
— Cardiovascular Disease
Moderate drinking is connected with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease in both men and women. Consuming more than this can increase both men and women’s risk of heart disease. Additionally, females are more likely to suffer cardiac muscle injury as a result of alcohol abuse.
When attempting to conceive a child, both women and men should abstain from alcohol. Consumption of alcoholic beverages can impair sperm count and quality and ovulation interruptions.
Furthermore, it is widely established that drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
— Liver Problems
Because alcohol is processed by the liver, excessive drinking can hurt the liver’s health. While both men and women are susceptible to cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver illnesses, women are more likely to develop cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases than males.
What Is Moderate Drinking?
Alcohol intake is connected with several short- and long-term health concerns, including motor vehicle accidents, violence, hypertension, and various malignancies.
The likelihood of these adverse effects increases in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed. Certain disorders, such as certain malignancies, increase the risk of developing them even at extremely low levels of alcohol intake.
Moderate drinking is classified as less than two daily drinks for men and less than one drink for women. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people who don’t consume alcohol shouldn’t start to for any reason.
What Is Heavy Drinking?
Excessive drinking is often described as 15 or more drinks per week for guys. Excessive drinking is often described as eight or more drinks per week for women.
What Time Should You Stop Drinking Before Bed to Prevent Issues?
Alcohol should not be consumed in the four hours preceding bedtime. Alcohol can assist you in falling asleep, but it impairs your sleep quality.
One drink can take up to an hour for your body to absorb. If you’ve had numerous drinks, it’s advisable to finish your final one several hours before bed.
Whether you’ve had one or more drinks, it’s recommended to wait until your body has processed the alcohol completely before going to bed.
If alcohol continues to impair your overall sleep quality, you may want to consider abstaining from it altogether or restricting your use before night. Consult a sleep specialist if you’ve abstained from alcohol but are still experiencing sleep problems.
You might want to check this out: Best Wine Gifts
Tips for Having a Nightcap Before Bed
Generally speaking, it is not recommended to have a nightcap before bed. While you think it might hello you relax, scientific evidence suggests that’s not the case.
However, if you’re committed to having a serving of alcohol before bed, consider the following tips to continue staying healthy:
- Every night, regardless of weekends or holidays, go to bed and wake up at the same hour.
- Exercise regularly.
- Create a soothing nighttime routine.
- Sleep for a minimum of seven hours, even if this means going to bed earlier than usual.
- Maintain a healthy diet and abstain from coffee.
- Switch off all electronic devices. Thirty minutes before bedtime.
- If after 20 minutes you can’t seem to fall asleep, get out of bed.
- Set up a suitable sleeping atmosphere by dimming the lights, creating a peaceful, soothing environment in your bedroom, and maintaining a moderate room temperature.
- Avoid big meals before bedtime. If you’re hungry, have a light, healthful snack.
- Reduce your fluid consumption before going to bed.
- Allow at least three hours between your final drink and bedtime.
- Consume water alongside alcohol to assist in flushing the alcohol out.
- Consume alcohol while eating a meal because you’re likely eating a couple of hours before night. This is an effective approach to moderate your drinking.
Important: Avoid alcohol if you’re taking sleeping pills. Both are depressants, and when taken together, they can make it extremely difficult for a person to breathe while sleeping, to the point of danger.
Sleep Aid Alternatives
If you have infrequent sleep problems, you may decide to try an over-the-counter (OTC) or home remedy to assist you in falling asleep. Certain individuals prefer to eschew medication instead of natural alternatives.
Natural sleep aids are considered all sleep aid alternatives that don’t require a prescription. They promote relaxation, alleviate anxiety, and aid with sleep. Numerous natural sleep aids are also associated with other beneficial health practices, such as improved digestion and pain alleviation.
Melatonin is a pineal gland hormone. It is in charge of your circadian cycles. Supplemental melatonin may aid in sleep onset and improve sleep quality.
Supplemental melatonin was found to be beneficial as a sleep aid in a 2016 study. With 3 mg of melatonin, shift workers fall asleep faster and sleep for a longer period of time each cycle.
Valerian is a herbal medicine derived from the plant’s root. Although it has been recognized to work as a sedative, additional research on this herb is necessary. Valerian may interfere with certain drugs; therefore, you should check your physician before use.
According to a 2011 study, valerian may be beneficial in treating insomnia and enhancing sleep quality in postmenopausal women.
Valerian is a versatile herb that can be blended with other herbs. It is preferable to gradually raise your dose over time. Following an improvement in your sleep, you can use valerian for up to six weeks.
When it is time to quit using, gradually decrease your dose. Sudden cessation of use may result in anxiety or withdrawal symptoms.
• Passion Flower
Passionflower is a flowering plant that contains compounds that have a sedative effect. It promotes relaxation and sleepiness and is frequently blended with other herbs in herbal blends.
A 2016 study found that using passionflower for four weeks helped sleep difficulties. Additionally, participants in the study reported decreased anxiety levels.
You can brew a tea with the herb and drink it before night or take it in capsule form. The dose is 90 milligrams if you choose to take a pill. Passionflower should not be taken for more than two months at a time.
This is a mineral involved in hundreds of bodily functions and is critical for brain and heart health. Additionally, magnesium may help calm the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep.
According to studies, its soothing impact may be due in part to its capacity to regulate the generation of melatonin. Magnesium is well-known for its ability to calm muscles and promote sleep.
Magnesium also appears to boost levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a relaxing neurotransmitter in the brain. According to studies, inadequate magnesium levels in the body may be associated with sleep disturbances and insomnia.
• Chamomile Tea
Chamomile is a mild herb that promotes relaxation. It aids in the process of relaxation and sleep. Chamomile tea was found to be beneficial in increasing the quality of sleep in postpartum mothers in a 2016 study.
Additionally, it alleviated depression symptoms. If you are sensitive to ragweed or any other member of the daisy family, you should avoid chamomile, as you may also be allergic to chamomile. Therefore, consult your physician or allergist before using.
Don’t take anything above the prescribed dose of chamomile capsules or pills. This may result in nausea and vomiting. Additionally, you should avoid chamomile if you have a hormonally sensitive disease.
Ginseng is a herb that is commonly used in herbal medicine. It is said to promote sleep and boost immunity. Because the FDA in the United States does not monitor or regulate herbs, you should proceed with caution when using them.
Consult your physician before use so they can assist you in determining your risk of experiencing side effects or issues.
Red ginseng extract was beneficial for patients who struggled with sleep. After ingesting the extract for a week, participants reported improved sleep quality.
Ginseng can be taken for a maximum of three months at a time. Then wait at least one week before resuming ginseng.
You might want to read this: What is Sleep Drunkenness?
Sleeping regularly and uninterruptedly is critical for our well-being. Sleep replenishes our batteries for daily activities and contributes to our ability to work successfully. Consuming alcohol can alter the quality and duration of your sleep.
It can disrupt the sleep cycle and have ramifications during the waking hours. Individuals who suffer from sleep difficulties should pay special attention to the effects of alcohol on their sleep.
Photo credit: SEMENENKO STANISLAV/Shutterstock; Ira Lichi/Shutterstock;
Syda Productions/Shutterstock; Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock;
Michael Traitov/Shutterstock; Motortion Films/Shutterstock;
Andrii Medvediuk/Shutterstock; Poznyakov/Shutterstock;
fotodrobik/Shutterstock; Iuliia Pilipeichenko/Shutterstock;
Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock; Iryna Imago/Shutterstock;
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it good to drink before bed?
It's best to avoid alcoholic beverages at least four hours before going to bed. Even drinking water can result in frequent bath visits, which leads to sleep interruptions and disrupts sleep quality.
What is the best drink to have before bed?
Some of the best drinks you can have before bedtime include calming tea (such as chamomile) or plain water.
Is alcohol before bed addictive?
Alcohol before bedtime is no more addictive compared to alcohol drunk at any other time of the day. If you do enjoy the occasional drink, don't exceed the recommended one (for women) or two (for men) servings.