How alcohol affects your sleep patterns – Regular drinking can affect the quality of your sleep making you feel tired and sluggish. This is because drinking disrupts your sleep cycle.1 Some people may find alcohol helps them get to sleep initially, but this is outweighed by the negative effect on sleep quality through the night.
The alcohol in your system will mean you spend less time in the important Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, 2 with the end result that you wake up feeling less refreshed. Even just a couple of drinks will have an effect. Several sleepless nights can have an impact on your day-to-day mental function – for example, your mood, concentration and decision-making.
Of course, if you’ve had a lot to drink, you may well wake up with a hangover too. So, as well as feeling tired, you might find you have a headache, or you’re more stressed and irritable. If you get a hangover, only time will help you sober up, but you could avoid getting one in the first place by limiting how many alcoholic drinks you have, and alternating with water or soft drinks, to help avoid dehydration.
How much does alcohol affect sleep?
Alcohol and Sleep Medical Disclaimer: The content on this page should not be taken as medical advice or used as a recommendation for any specific treatment or medication. Always consult your doctor before taking a new medication or changing your current treatment.
- Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that causes brain activity to slow down.
- Alcohol has sedative effects that can induce feelings of relaxation and sleepiness, but the consumption of alcohol — especially in excess — has been linked to poor sleep quality and duration.
- People with alcohol use disorders commonly experience insomnia symptoms.
Studies have shown that alcohol use can exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea. Drinking alcohol in moderation is generally considered safe but every individual reacts differently to alcohol. As a result, alcohol’s impact on sleep largely depends on the individual.
After a person consumes alcohol, the substance is absorbed into their bloodstream Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. from the stomach and small intestine. Enzymes in the liver eventually metabolize the alcohol, but because this is a fairly slow process, excess alcohol will continue to circulate through the body.
The effects of alcohol largely depend on the person. Important factors include the amount of alcohol and how quickly it is consumed, as well as the person’s age and body composition. The relationship between alcohol and sleep National Institutes of Health (NIH) The NIH, a part of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, is the nation’s medical research agency — making important discoveries that improve health and save lives. has been studied since the 1930s, yet many aspects of this relationship are still unknown. Research has shown that those who drink large amounts of alcohol before bed are often prone to decreased sleep onset latency, meaning they take less time to fall asleep.
As liver enzymes metabolize the alcohol during the night and blood alcohol levels decrease, these individuals are also more likely to experience sleep disruptions and decreases in sleep quality. To understand how alcohol impacts sleep, it is important to understand the different stages of the human sleep cycle. A normal sleep cycle consists of : three non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stages and one rapid eye movement (REM) stage.
- Stage 1 (NREM) : This initial stage is the transition period between wakefulness and sleep, during which the body will begin to wind down. The sleeper’s heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements start to slow down and their muscles will relax. Brain activity also begins to decrease. This phase is also known as light sleep.
- Stage 2 (NREM) : The sleeper’s heartbeat and breathing rates continue to slow as they progress toward deeper sleep. Their body temperature will also decrease and the eyes become still. Stage 2 is usually the longest of the four sleep cycle stages.
- Stage 3 (NREM) : Heartbeat, breathing rates, and brain activity all reach their lowest levels of the sleep cycle. Eye movements cease and the muscles are totally relaxed. This stage is known as slow-wave sleep.
- REM : REM sleep begins about 90 minutes after the individual initially falls asleep. Eye movements will restart and the sleeper’s breathing rate and heartbeat will quicken. Dreaming primarily takes place during REM sleep. This stage is also thought to play a role in memory consolidation National Center for Biotechnology Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information.,
These four NREM and REM stages repeat in cyclical fashion throughout the night. Each cycle should last roughly 90 to 120 minutes Merck Manual First published in 1899 as a small reference book for physicians and pharmacists, the Manual grew in size and scope to become one of the most widely used comprehensive medical resources for professionals and consumers.
- Resulting in four to five cycles for every eight hours of sleep.
- For the first one or two cycles, NREM slow-wave sleep is dominant, whereas REM sleep typically lasts no longer than 10 minutes.
- For later cycles, these roles will flip and REM will become more dominant, sometimes lasting 40 minutes or longer without interruption.
NREM sleep will essentially cease during these later cycles. Drinking alcohol before bed can increase the suppression of REM sleep during the first two cycles. Since alcohol is a sedative, sleep onset is often shorter for drinkers and some fall into deep sleep rather quickly.
- As the night progresses, this can create an imbalance between slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, resulting in less of the latter and more of the former.
- This imbalance decreases overall sleep quality, which can result in shorter sleep duration and more sleep disruptions.
- The most common sleep disorder, is marked by periods of difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Insomnia occurs despite the opportunity and desire to sleep, and leads to and other negative effects. Since alcohol can reduce REM sleep and cause sleep disruptions, people who drink before bed often experience insomnia symptoms and feel excessively sleepy National Center for Biotechnology Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information.
- The following day.
- This can lead them into a vicious cycle National Center for Biotechnology Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information.
- That consists of self-medicating with alcohol in order to fall asleep, consuming caffeine and other stimulants during the day to stay awake, and then using alcohol as a sedative to offset the effects of these stimulants.
Binge-drinking – consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time that results in a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher – can be particularly detrimental to sleep quality. In recent studies, people who took part in binge-drinking on a weekly basis were significantly more likely to have trouble falling and staying asleep.
- These findings were true for both men and women.
- Similar trends were observed in adolescents and young adults National Center for Biotechnology Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information.
- As well as middle-aged and older adults National Center for Biotechnology Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information.
Researchers have noted a link between long-term alcohol abuse and chronic sleep problems. People can develop a tolerance for alcohol rather quickly, leading them to drink more before bed in order to initiate sleep. Those who have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorders frequently report insomnia symptoms.
The Matt Walker Podcast SleepFoundation.org’s Scientific Advisor is a disorder characterized by abnormal breathing and temporary loss of breath during sleep. These lapses in breathing can in turn cause sleep disruptions and decrease sleep quality. occurs due to physical blockages in the back of the throat, while occurs because the brain cannot properly signal the muscles that control breathing.
During apnea-related breathing episodes – which can occur throughout the night – the sleeper may make choking noises. People with sleep apnea are also prone to loud, disruptive snoring. Some studies suggest that alcohol contributes to sleep apnea because it causes the throat muscles to relax, which in turn creates more resistance during breathing.
This can exacerbate OSA symptoms and lead to disruptive breathing episodes, as well as heavier snoring. Additionally, consuming just one serving of alcohol before bed can lead to symptoms of OSA and heavy snoring, even for people who have not been diagnosed with sleep apnea. The relationship between sleep apnea and alcohol has been researched fairly extensively.
The general consensus based on various studies is that consuming alcohol increases the risk of sleep apnea National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. Does Alcohol Help You Sleep? Alcohol may aid with sleep onset due to its sedative properties, allowing you to fall asleep more quickly. However, people who drink before bed often experience disruptions later in their sleep cycle as liver enzymes metabolize alcohol.
- 12 ounces of beer with 5% alcohol content
- 5 ounces of wine with 12% alcohol content
- 1 ounce of liquor or distilled spirits with 40% alcohol content
Moderate drinking is loosely defined as up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Heavy drinking means more than 15 drinks per week for men and more than eight drinks per week for women. Will a Small Amount of Alcohol Affect My Sleep? Drinking to excess will typically have a more negative impact on sleep than light or moderate alcohol consumption.
However, since the effects of alcohol are different from person to person, even small amounts of alcohol can reduce sleep quality for some people. One 2018 study compared sleep quality National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information.
among subjects who consumed various amounts of alcohol.
- Low amounts of alcohol : Having fewer than two servings of alcohol per day for men or one serving per day for women decreased sleep quality by 9.3%.
- Moderate amounts of alcohol : Having two servings of alcohol per day for men or one serving per day for women decreased sleep quality by 24%.
- High amounts of alcohol : Having more than two servings of alcohol per day for men or one serving per day for women decreased sleep quality by 39.2%.
When Should I Stop Drinking Prior To Bed To Minimize Sleep Disruption? You can manage the negative effects of alcohol on sleep by giving your body ample time to metabolize alcohol before falling asleep. To reduce the risk of sleep disruptions, you should stop drinking alcohol at least four hours National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information.
- Centers for Disease Control. (2020, January 15). Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., Retrieved February 6, 2023, from
- Roehrs, T., & Roth, T. Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism., Retrieved February 6, 2023, from
- Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2013). About Sleep’s Role in Memory. Physiological Reviews, 93(2), 681–766.
- Schwab, R. (2020, June). Insomnia and Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS). Merck Manual Consumer Version., Retrieved February 6, 2023, from
- Park, S., Oh, M., Lee, B., Kim, H., Lee, W., Lee, J., Lim, J., & Kim, J. (2015). The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep. Korean Journal of Family Medicine, 36(6), 294–299.
- Coltrain, I., Nicholas, C., & Baker, F. (2018). Alcohol and the Sleeping Brain. Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 125, 415–431., Retrieved from
- Popovici, I., & French, M. (2013). Binge Drinking and Sleep Problems among Young Adults. Drug and Alcohol Independence, 132, 207–215.
- Canham, S., Kaufmann, C., Mauro, P., Mojtabai, R., & Spira, A. (2015). Binge Drinking and Insomnia in Middle-aged and Older Adults: The Health and Retirement Study. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 30(3), 284–291.
- Simou, E., Britton, J., & Leonardi-Bee, J. (2018). Alcohol and the risk of sleep apnoea: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine, 42, 38–46.
- Pietilä, J., Helander, E., Korhonen, I., Myllymäki, T., Kujala, U., & Lindholm, H. (2018). Acute Effect of Alcohol Intake on Cardiovascular Autonomic Regulation During the First Hours of Sleep in a Large Real-World Sample of Finnish Employees: Observational Study. JMIR Mental Health, 5(1), e23.
- Stein, M.D., & Friedmann, P.D. (2005). Disturbed sleep and its relationship to alcohol use. Subst Abuse, 26(1):1-13.
: Alcohol and Sleep
Why does alcohol keep me awake at night?
Alcohols Effect on Sleep – While alcohol can help you fall asleep, it doesn’t really allow you to achieve proper sleep. The reason is that your body will be busy metabolizing the alcohol in your bloodstream while you try to sleep. And while the body might metabolize and eliminate the alcohol during the night, it will continue to try to adjust, and this overcompensation will lead to sleep disruption. After your body has metabolized some of the alcohol it will release excitatory glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter of your nervous system. When it enters the reticular activating system, it disrupts your sleep. Our sleep cycle is divided into four stages:
- Three non-rapid eye movement cycles (NREM), and
- One rapid eye movement cycle (REM).
REM cycle is the one normally associated with restorative sleep, and it’s when your brain consolidates your memories of the day. It’s also known as the time when we are more likely to dream. During this time, your body relaxes while your brain becomes more active.
- It’s this phase that alcohol affects the most.
- While you fall asleep more quickly after drinking, this actually reduces your REM sleep and increases your NREM sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation.
- This change in the normal sleep cycle can lead to sleepwalking, intense dreams and nightmares, and even sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea happens when we pause our breathing briefly while we sleep. Since alcohol loosens the muscles in our throats, it can make these symptoms worse. The Sleep Foundation found that alcohol can decrease sleep quality by 9.3% with one serving, and as much as 39.2% with more than two. Plus, alcohol is terrible for our health overall, but particularly for our liver health, The liver gets a higher dose of alcohol than the rest of our organs due to being closer to the stomach.
Will 1 beer ruin your sleep?
Even Low Alcohol Consumption Hurts Sleep Quality – A study conducted by Finnish researchers found that any amount of alcohol consumption before bedtime hurts sleep quality. Specifically, low amounts decreased sleep quality by over 9%, moderate amounts by nearly 25%, and high amounts by almost 40%.
Is caffeine or alcohol worse for sleep?
Researchers say nicotine and alcohol before bedtime can have a negative impact on the quantity and quality of sleep, Experts say coffee and other caffeinated beverages don’t significantly affect sleep patterns for most people, Doctors are being urged to tell people with sleep difficulties to avoid smoking or drinking alcohol in the hours before they go to sleep
We could all use more sleep — or at least better quality sleep. And people who smoke cigarettes or have an evening drink may be cheating themselves out of some important deep slumber. New research published in the journal Sleep suggests that to get a good night’s rest, you should cut back on nicotine and alcohol, and not necessarily caffeine, four hours before bed.
They say that could help improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. A study led by a researcher at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) — with help from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard University, Emory University, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and the National Institutes of Health — focused on the evening consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine among 785 African-Americans over a combined 5,164 days.
Researchers measured their corresponding sleep using wristwatch-like sensors and participants’ daily entries into sleep diaries. Researchers say their data showed that people who used nicotine and alcohol within four hours of going to bed felt the largest impact on their sleep cycle, even when controlling for age, gender, stress, and other factors.
- Nicotine was particularly harsh on people with insomnia.
- Using nicotine at night resulted in a more than 40-minute reduction in overall sleep.
- The study authors note that because nicotine was the most commonly used substance that kept people up at night, it was yet another reason for people to quit this unhealthy habit.
That includes smoking, vaping, dipping, and all the other ways nicotine can be ingested. One important detail of the study is that it focused on African Americans who didn’t think they had problems sleeping at night and followed them through different points in their daily routines, from waking up for school to waking up for work.
- African Americans have been underrepresented in studies examining the associations of nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine use on sleep,” Christine E.
- Spadola, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in FAU’s Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, said in a press release.
- This is especially significant because African Americans are more likely to experience short sleep duration and fragmented sleep compared to non-Hispanic whites as well as more deleterious health consequences associated with inadequate sleep than other racial or ethnic groups.” The study authors also note their findings support recommending that doctors and others in the healthcare field to advise people who complain about sleep difficulties to limit nicotine and alcohol consumption before bedtime.
The researchers, however, found little correlation between coffee consumption within four hours of going to bed and sleep difficulties. Researchers did warn that dosing, sensitivity, and tolerance weren’t measured and “can play an important role in the association between caffeine use and sleep.” Basically, the study suggests that it’s that late-night smoke or vape and the extra glass of wine after dinner that are keeping you up, not necessarily that 4 p.m.
Why do I sleep better when drunk?
– Anyone who’s ever indulged in a drink or two knows that alcohol can make you real sleepy, real fast. That’s because alcohol depresses the central nervous system. It has a sedative effect that helps you relax and makes you drowsy, so you fall asleep faster.
How do you get good sleep after drinking?
What Alcohol Affects, Water Offsets – We’ve all been told that drinking eight glasses of water a day keeps us healthy and ready for the day, but have you ever tried drinking water after every pint or shot? One of the effects of alcohol is obviously, getting you drunk.
- Intoxication, mild or severe, leads to dehydration and this adds to the headaches and vomiting.
- It has been proven that drinking water in between rounds minimises alcohol effects in the short term, and allows you to function at a kind of normal capacity.
- Drinking plenty of water can combat the diuretic effect of alcohol on your body.
Another benefit of drinking water while drinking alcohol lessens the effects of alcohol when it comes to your sleep. A bad hangover prevents you from getting enough sleep and in bad cases, will have you throwing up in the middle of the night. Drinking plenty of water might help prevent those sleep disruptions.
Why can’t I sleep 24 hours after drinking?
Why should we limit alcohol before bed? – “Alcohol affects the quality and the quantity of our sleep patterns,” explains Dr Arghya Sarkhel, lead consultant psychiatrist at the Living Mind clinic in London. “It impacts our circadian rhythms and pushes our body out of sync.” Multiple studies have confirmed the effect this can have – drinking disrupts our master biological clock, limits the production of melatonin (also known as the sleep hormone), elevates levels of adenosine (which makes us feel sleepy when we’ve been awake for a long time) and forces our liver to work harder.
All this makes for a disturbed night and a sleeping pattern that goes against the grain. “Alcohol often has an immediate sedative effect and reduces the time it takes for us to fall asleep,” explains Dr Sarkhel. “However, it also suppresses REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is a lighter kind of sleep.
Studies show that in the earlier stages of the night – when the body is metabolising the alcohol consumed – people spend more time in deep, slow-wave sleep and less time in REM.” While this may sound beneficial, it’s not. Our sleep structure has biologically evolved over the years – and changes aren’t good for our physical and emotional health.
REM sleep is important for mental restoration, memory and emotional processing and is often when you dream. A lack of this can lead to cognitive impairment, an inability to concentrate and daytime drowsiness,” Dr Sarkhel adds. Once alcohol has been metabolised, the body often feels the impact of the ‘rebound effect’ in the latter half of the night, and moves to a lighter slumber from which it’s more likely to be woken up.
This means that those who have indulged in the evening often find themselves wide awake at 2am and unable to get back to sleep.
How long before bed should you stop drinking alcohol?
1. Stop Drinking Alcohol at Least 4 Hours Before Bed – This is probably the most important tip to follow. If you limit your alcohol intake to four hours or more before bedtime, you allow your body plenty of time to metabolize the alcohol and get it out of your system. Once the alcohol is out of your system, you should be able to sleep normally and reduce your risk of poor sleep.
Does alcohol reduce melatonin?
– Even though alcohol is a sedative that can make you feel sleepy after a few drinks, it’s known to reduce the amount of melatonin that your body can create. This can interrupt your sleep cycle. Alcohol can also cause some of the muscles around your airways to work differently and affect your breathing.
drowsiness, which can make it much harder for you to drive or focus on certain tasksdizziness, which can make driving or even walking around dangerousincreased anxiety, which can make you feel irritable or raise your blood pressure