When we drink alcohol, our blood is flooded with feelings of calmness and sedation. It can get you so relaxed that you may even fall asleep. But those sweet dreams don't last.
"Alcohol never improves sleep," saysDr. John Mendelson, founder of Ria Health and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "Although alcohol helps you relax, making falling asleep easier for some, three to four hours after falling asleep, people wake up and can't get back to sleep."
Alcohol is a temporary fix for an underlying issue. If you have trouble falling asleep, consider swapping out the nightcap for relaxing activities in yournighttime routine. It can be anything that helps your body wind down: reading a book, taking a bubble bath or doing yoga poses before bed.
How does alcohol affect sleep?
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which is why it gives you that pleasant, relaxed feeling. It's why so many of us fall asleep after drinking, and why it can seem like alcohol helps you sleep. How alcohol affects your sleep isn't a single, straightforward thing, because there are several ways that alcohol consumption influences the quality of sleep you get.
To be clear, we're not just talking about binge or heavy drinking; a drink or two that is too close to bedtime can have a big impact on your sleep.
Here are four ways that alcohol affects your sleep.
Alcohol disrupts REM sleep
Its relaxing properties make alcohol seem like a surefire way to sleep at night. However, the quality of restorative, restful sleep decreases. Research has shown that alcohol use interrupts your sleep cycle, particularly REM sleep. Remember, REM sleep is where dreaming happens.
"Evidence now suggests the deeper sleep of alcohol is also associated with an increase in frontal alpha waves, markers of wakefulness, and sleep disruption. Thus the deep sleep of alcohol is likely not to be restorative," says Dan Ford, sleep psychologist and founder of the Better Sleep Clinic.
So while you may initially fall asleep quicker, you aren't getting the benefits of REM sleep through the night. When you don't get enough REM sleep, you won't feel rested, and you'll see that influence your performance the day after. Studies have shown that daytime alertness decreases the day following a night of heavy alcohol consumption.
You wake up more often after a few drinks
We mentioned that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This means the excitatory nerve cells in your brain are suppressed, so you fall asleep. But for most people, it doesn't last long. As your body metabolizes the alcohol, the excitatory nerves rebound. This process can cause you to wake up and experience trouble getting back to sleep.
While this is common, it doesn't happen to everyone. To those I say, consider yourself lucky. This side effect happens to me almost every time I have a drink at night. Sure, the cocktail is fun while it lasts, but let me tell you, when I'm staring at my ceiling at three in the morning, I wish I would have skipped it altogether.
Alcohol suppresses melatonin production in our bodies
Our bodies produce melatonin to help control our sleep-wake cycle, which happens to coincide with sunlight. Our pineal gland releases melatonin as the sun goes down, and we start feeling tired. When you drink, you're essentially throwing your sleep-wake cycle off.
Alcohol consumption decreases melatonin production -- regardless of whether the sun is down. One study found that drinking alcohol an hour before you go to sleep can suppress melatonin production by 20%.
We know what you're thinking: I can just take a melatonin supplement and combat the side effects. Not so fast; it's not recommended to mix alcohol and melatonin. Potential side effects can include anxiety, high blood pressure, dizziness or breathing problems. On a larger scale, mixing the two can affect your liver's ability to produce certain enzymes.
Alcohol can amplify the effects of sleeping disorders
In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, where the throat muscles and tongue are already impeding on your airway, alcohol makes the condition worse. When you drink alcohol before bed and have sleep apnea, your throat muscles will be even more relaxed and collapse more often, which translates to frequent breathing interruptions that last longer than normal.
Research suggests alcohol consumption increases the risk of sleep apnea by 25%. It also contributes to the lowest oxygen saturation levels in patients with obstructive sleep apnea. Oxygen saturation measures how much oxygen is in your blood and how effectively it's able to carry it to your brain, heart and extremities.
Alcohol can also worsen insomnia, the most common sleep disorder, which is marked by difficulty falling asleep, waking up through the night or waking too early in the morning.
It's estimated that between 35% and 70% of people who drink alcohol live with insomnia. It's a little bit of a chicken and an egg situation -- troubles with insomnia can be made worse by alcohol consumption. And insomnia has the potential to contribute to alcohol dependence.
On the surface, alcohol's sedative effects can feel like they would ease the symptoms of insomnia and help you fall asleep. But given the likelihood of REM sleep disruptions and frequent waking, it's not recommended that anyone use alcohol to treat their insomnia symptoms.
How to sleep better after drinking alcohol
You can still enjoy a drink and sleep well. Use these tips to make sure your favorite cocktail never keeps you up at night.
Pay attention to how alcohol impacts your sleep
You should be aware of how alcohol affects you and your sleep schedules. "Keep a sleep log to measure duration and quality and add to that log drink quantity and times to see if you notice patterns related to sleep quality," Mendelson advises.
It can be as involved or simple as you want. You can log it in a journal or just check in with yourself in the morning. The impact alcohol has on your sleep will be specific to you. If you're making an effort to pay attention to how it affects you, you can set limitations for your body and needs.
Stop drinking at least four hours before you go to sleep
You can still enjoy a cocktail and get good sleep. There's no need to swear off alcohol entirely, but timing your drinks can be the difference between sleeping through the night and tossing and turning.
"If you choose to drink alcohol, drink in moderation and stop at least four hours before bedtime to avoid its negative effects on healthy sleep," advises Dr. Raj Dasgupta, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
To put that in perspective, four hours before you sleep is roughly dinner time for most people. Four hours is a good benchmark because it gives your body time to metabolize the alcohol to ensure it won't impact your sleep.
Too long, didn't read?
We're not here to tell you a drop of alcohol will ruin your sleep quality. However, there are a few nuances that you'll run into. Drinking alcohol, specifically within four hours before you go to bed, may help you fall asleep quicker but ultimately reduce your REM sleep and will potentially wake you up later. Timing your cocktails or swapping out your drink for a mocktail is a great way to ensure you'll sleep soundly through the night.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Why do I wake up at 3am when I drink alcohol? ›
The body, as smart as it is, makes certain adjustments to the amount of REM sleep you experience once it detects alcohol in the system. However, once all the alcohol is metabolized by your body, these previously made adjustments to the sleep cycle continue, which results in you waking up.How do you stop alcohol from disrupting sleep? ›
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. View Source before bedtime.Can alcoholics have trouble sleeping? ›
Sleep problems, which can have significant clinical and economic consequences, are more common among alcoholics than among nonalcoholics. During both drinking periods and withdrawal, alcoholics commonly experience problems falling asleep and decreased total sleep time.Why do I wake up in the middle of the night alcohol? ›
First, alcohol is a diuretic, so your body works hard to metabolize it and creates large volumes of urine to help you get the alcohol out of your body. So, you'll likely need to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.What is a gray area drinker? ›
Those who refer to themselves as gray area drinkers understand they are neither an occasional drinker nor an alcoholic. This type of drinking behavior is sometimes referred to as drinking in moderation. Gray area drinkers are those who have a daily habit of drinking in social settings or when at home alone.Why do I wake up at 2am and can't go back to sleep? ›
Reasons this might happen include drinking caffeine or alcohol late in the day, a poor sleep environment, a sleep disorder, or another health condition. When you can't get back to sleep quickly, you won't get enough quality sleep to keep you refreshed and healthy.How do you go back to sleep after waking up from alcohol? ›
“Therefore if you drink too much alcohol right before going to bed, in about four hours it is converted to aldehyde which can disrupt sleep and wake you up.” If you wake up: Try deep breathing. It's a well-known method of stress reduction and relaxation, if done correctly.Which stage of sleep is most disrupted by alcohol? ›
What stage of sleep is most disrupted by alcohol? Alcohol can disrupt all stages of sleep, but it is most likely to affect the latter stages of sleep, known as deep sleep or slow-wave sleep. Deep sleep is a vital stage of sleep that is important for physical and emotional rest and repair.Does cutting out alcohol help you sleep better? ›
Improved energy levels and better sleep
If you stop drinking completely, one of the first things you notice should be improved energy levels, better sleep and finding it easier to wake up in the morning. Regular drinking can affect the quality of your sleep making you feel tired and sluggish during the day.
No. Drinking while taking any prescription or OTC sleep medication is a bad idea. Alcohol can worsen the side effects and the intended sleepiness of these medications. Drinking alcohol with any sleep aid can cause life-threatening sedation and raise your risk of an overdose.
What is the best sleep aid for recovering alcoholic people? ›
The only OTC medication Dr. Suzuki recommends is melatonin. It occurs naturally in your body and taking it supplementally doesn't knock you out, but does encourage sleep. Only take melatonin occasionally and two hours before bedtime.Which alcohol is least harmful to your liver? ›
- Red Wine. ...
- Light Beer. ...
- Tequila. ...
- Gin & Rum & Vodka & Whiskey.
In general, you may start to experience physical benefits such as increased energy, reduced anxiety, and improved liver health. You might also notice positive changes in your personal life, such as improved relationships and more free time for hobbies.How bad is drinking 12 beers a day? ›
Drinking one light beer has an average of 130 calories. Consuming a 12-pack of Coors Light can add up to an additional 1,560 calories per day or three-fourths of a daily recommended intake. Research indicates that 3,500 calories amount to 1lb of weight gain. Drinking 12 beers a day can also lead to drastic weight gain.What are the 4 types of drinker? ›
- Social drinking. To date, nearly all the research on drinking motives has been done on teens and young adults. ...
- Drinking to conform. ...
- Drinking for enhancement. ...
- Drinking to cope.
Android and iPhone users with the “Drinking Mirror” app are able to upload or snap photos of themselves and enter information about their drinking habits. Once they do so, they will see how their faces might age if they continue to drink at their current rate.What is considered heavy alcohol usage? ›
What do you mean by heavy drinking? For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.Is it OK to take melatonin every night? ›
Regardless of whether it truly helps with sleep or not, Dr. Ramkissoon doesn't recommend taking melatonin long-term.Why do I wake up at 3am every night and can t fall back asleep? ›
If you wake up at 3 a.m. or another time and can't fall right back asleep, it may be for several reasons. These include lighter sleep cycles, stress, or underlying health conditions. Your 3 a.m. awakenings may occur infrequently and be nothing serious, but regular nights like this could be a sign of insomnia.Is it bad to take melatonin at 3am? ›
What's most important is that you avoid taking melatonin at or after your ideal bedtime. This can shift your body clock in the wrong direction, resulting in daytime sleepiness.
How can I stay asleep for 8 hours? ›
- Establish a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine. ...
- Relax your body. ...
- Make your bedroom conducive to sleep. ...
- Put clocks in your bedroom out of sight. ...
- Avoid caffeine after noon, and limit alcohol to 1 drink several hours before bedtime. ...
- Avoid smoking. ...
- Get regular exercise. ...
- Go to bed only when you're sleepy.
Drinking to excess before bed also plays havoc with the REM sleep stage. Studies indicate an evening of heavy drinking leads to a significant reduction in REM sleep during the first half of the night.Why does alcohol ruin sleep? ›
One reason: In the brain, alcohol acts on gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a neurotransmitter that inhibits impulses between nerve cells and has a calming effect. Alcohol can also suppress rapid eye movement, or REM sleep, which is when most dreaming occurs.How to sober up from alcohol in 30 minutes? ›
- Drink Coffee. Drinking a strong black coffee is sometimes suggested by helpful friends as a means of 'sobering up'. ...
- Take a cold shower. Standing under some cold water will shock your body into sobering up. ...
- Eat. ...
- Sleep. ...
3-4 Weeks. At 3 weeks of not drinking, most drinkers have successfully reduced their risk of heart disease, including stroke, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Their kidney health and even their vision may improve. For dependent drinkers, blood pressure may reduce to normal levels by the 3rd or 4th week.What happens after 2 weeks of no alcohol? ›
After two weeks off alcohol, you will continue to reap the benefits of better sleep and hydration. As alcohol is an irritant to the stomach lining, after a fortnight you will also see a reduction in symptoms such as reflux where the stomach acid burns your throat.What happens after 3 days of no alcohol? ›
After Three Days: After three days, you will likely start to feel more like yourself. However, individuals who have been drinking heavily for long periods of time may still experience some symptoms of withdrawal and may even have hallucinations or delirium tremens (DTs) and seizures.Is 10mg of melatonin too much? ›
How many 10 mg melatonin should you take? In adults, 10 mg is the maximum recommended dosage. However, most people do not need doses of melatonin this high. While there is no risk of addiction, research shows that melatonin administration is effective at the lowest dose for the short term.Can you take magnesium after drinking alcohol? ›
As magnesium is so important to over 400 different chemical reactions and is depleted by alcohol, I recommend supplementing with 300-500mg of Magnesium glycinate or bisglycinate. Glycine helps to slow alcohol absorption and helps support the detoxification of alcohol through producing the antioxidant glutathione (5).What are the bad side effects of melatonin? ›
- Feeling sleepy or tired in the daytime. ...
- Headache. ...
- Stomach ache. ...
- Feeling sick (nausea) ...
- Feeling dizzy. ...
- Feeling irritable or restless. ...
- Dry mouth. ...
- Dry or itchy skin.
What is the best sedative for alcoholics? ›
Diazepam is one of the most common medications used to treat alcoholism. It comes in two forms: tablet and injection. The medicine helps reduce the chance of recurrent withdrawal symptoms.
Once your body has built up a physical dependence upon alcohol, called tolerance, and alcohol use stops, withdrawal symptoms will occur. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and frequently include insomnia and other sleep disruptions.What is the #1 worst drink for your liver? ›
"Alcohol is the worst drink for your liver as it makes it harder on the liver to break down and remove toxins from the body," says Minerva Valencia, RD. "Alcohol is known to cause damage to this vital organ, but a wide variety of alcoholic drinks can also pose health risks," says Janet Coleman, RD at TheConsumerMag.Which alcohol is hardest on liver? ›
In summary: There is no type of alcohol that is easier on your liver. The concentration of alcohol and volume consumed is the key differentiating factor. If you drink enough of any type of alcohol (even weak ones), it will be damaging to the liver.Which is worse alcohol or diet soda? ›
So, on that score, alcohol is less damaging than soft drinks. However, cocktails – which are sugary alcoholic drinks, have the same effect on your body as soft drinks. So, drink responsibly in more ways than one. It's well known that both alcohol and soft drinks can be fattening.What hormone wakes you up at 3am? ›
See, our circadian rhythm directs our cortisol, an awakening hormone, to rise around 3am, in preparation for the next morning. However, if you cortisol levels are already high, which is a consequence of stress, then it's likely you will wake up.Why can't I sleep well after drinking alcohol? ›
“There's some evidence that alcohol actually disrupts the release of melatonin in your brain,” says Aristidis Iatridis, M.D., a pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist at Piedmont. “Melatonin is the hormone that your brain releases when it wants to go to sleep.