Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy on November 10, 2023
Do you think having a nightcap will help you sleep better? Think again.
That relaxed feeling you get after a glass of wine or beer makes you feel drowsy, but alcohol disrupts your sleep in all sorts of ways.
Alcohol suppresses restorative stages of sleep your body and mind need to recharge. While a beer or two may help you knock out initially, booze makes you wake up more often during the night. Your sleep quality goes down the toilet and you feel groggier the next day.
The best advice? Cut out alcohol consumption. You’ll sleep better without it.
If you think you need help with saying goodbye to alcohol, Ardu is here to help. Our rehab center in Provo, Utah provides comprehensive treatment for alcohol addiction, including medically monitored detox, psychotherapy, group support, and aftercare planning—everything you need to start your journey toward sobriety and a healthier, happier life.
I recently had the good fortune to receive treatment at Ardu, and am so grateful for everyone there. All of the employees from the administration to the counselors, nurses and techs were awesome. I received the very latest in medical treatment, along with in-depth counseling and behavioral therapy, that allowed me to begin my recovery in a loving and supportive environment… thanks to Ardu Recovery Center!
After a long, stressful day, nothing beats unwinding with a glass of wine or beer before bed. Booze is a quick fix and a powerful sedative. These are the only pros of alcohol as a sleep aid.
Now, let’s get into the cons:
As you can see, the cons seem to far outweigh the pros. And that’s for the occasional consumption of alcohol. Heavy drinkers have it much worse. Korean researchers warn that “persons who consume alcohol in excessive amounts suffer from poor sleep quality and patients with alcohol use disorders commonly report insomnia.”
Looking at the big picture, alcohol is generally very bad for your health. It’s bad for the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, gut health, oral health, skin health, and mental health. Some of alcohol’s deleterious effects may be reversed, but why risk it?
Those addicted to alcohol may experience a hard time when they quit. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are your body’s natural reaction to the lack of booze. But there are ways to safely detox from alcohol.
There’s no denying that a glass of wine makes you feel nice and drowsy—at first. While alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it’s actually really disruptive to your sleep in the long run.
Roehrs and Roth found that alcohol’s sedative effects cause initial drowsiness by acting as a depressant, slowing brain activity and causing muscles to relax. Interestingly, they also discovered that these effects also enable faster sleep onset: alcohol helps you fall asleep faster.
Aside from causing drowsiness, alcohol can also:
All of these factors combined make you feel sleepy and hasten the physiological changes that promote sleep onset. The bad news is that “drinking momentarily increases sleepiness, but later causes frequent nighttime and early morning awakenings,” as a 2015 research suggests.
Here comes the really bad news from Roehrs and Roth.
…alcohol-induced sleepiness may contribute to the observed memory and performance impairment. Such a link would imply that alcohol consumption in combination with other drugs or conditions that enhance sleepiness could increase the risk for alcohol-related impairment.
Sleepiness caused by alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it may also be an important reason why chronic drinking hinders memory and functioning. If alcohol’s sedative properties do contribute to these cognitive impairments, combining alcohol with other drugs or substances that also make you sleepy may lead to even more pronounced deficits in memory and performance.
Technically, alcohol is a drug too. If you or someone you care about needs help managing alcohol or other drug use, our alcohol and drug treatment providers can offer personalized care. With proven psychotherapies, peer support, and medications, we help people overcome their addiction or abuse issues.
Contact us today and explore your options.
Sleep architecture sounds super technical, but it’s just a term to describe the structure and pattern of your sleep cycles. You know how you go through different stages of sleep all night? That’s your sleep architecture.
Each stage of sleep plays a crucial role.
For a refreshing slumber and general well-being, you need a healthy balance of all five sleep stages. Here’s where the negative effects of alcohol come in to mess things up.
Booze reduces time spent in dreamy REM sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, alcohol consumption before bed can suppress REM sleep in the first few cycles. As a sedative, alcohol shortens sleep onset, creating an imbalance between slow-wave and REM sleep, with less REM and more deep sleep. The imbalance negatively impacts your overall sleep quality, leading to shorter duration and more disruptions.
One study demonstrates that alcohol suppresses the REM stage in a dose-dependent manner—more alcohol leads to greater REM suppression. Interestingly, the study results also show that alcohol in fact increases deep, slow-wave sleep in the first half of the night while decreasing REM.
During acute intoxication, alcohol initially acts as a sedative-hypnotic, resulting in shortened sleep onset latency, increased slow-wave sleep (SWS; or non-rapid eye movement; NREM), decreased sigma power (typically associated with sleep spindles in NREM sleep), and dose-dependent suppression of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep during the first half of the night… (Jones, et. al.)
During the second half of the night, Jones, et. al. reveal that “wakefulness and sleep stage transitions are increased, resulting in disrupted sleep.”
Sleep fragmentation is when your sleep gets disrupted by multiple awakenings throughout the night. These frequent awakenings prevent you from staying in deep restorative sleep stages. Instead, they chop up and fragment your sleep cycles.
With increasing amounts, up to six drinks, sleep latency generally decreases. As with other short-acting sedatives, rebound occurs and arousal is heightened 2–3 hours after blood alcohol concentrations fall close to zero… the alcohol level will be near zero at 3 a.m., with an increase in arousal from this time onwards. REM rebound occurs in the second half of the night associated with intensive dreaming or nightmares. These effects contribute to sleep fragmentation. (Stein and Friedmann)
This makes your overall sleep way lighter and less continuous. Even if you fall back asleep after waking up, your sleep quality just isn’t the same. You miss out on long stretches of deep and REM sleep that your body really needs. Your sleep becomes lighter, more restless, and loses its rejuvenating effects.
Fragmented, interrupted sleep leaves you feeling groggy and unfocused the next day.
Sleep is so crucial. Our minds and bodies depend on it every night to function properly. When we don’t get enough quality shut-eye, it can really take a toll on our health, focus, and daily performance.
We need enough REM and deep sleep each night to recharge. Deep sleep restores our physical health, while REM sleep consolidates learning and memory. Without these key sleep stages, we wake up feeling groggy and foggy no matter how long we’ve slept.
Here’s the kicker: regularly drinking alcohol before bed can totally sabotage the quality of our sleep.
In the long run, heavy drinking can pave the way for new sleep issues to emerge as sleep stays chronically disrupted night after night. The best thing you can do for your sleep (and health) is to quit, but overcoming an alcohol addiction is extremely challenging. But with the right help and support system, recovery is absolutely possible.
Overcoming an alcohol addiction is extremely challenging, but with the right help and support, recovery is absolutely possible. At our addiction treatment center, we provide comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment to help guide you through the recovery process.
A healthy circadian rhythm is so important for getting consistent, restorative sleep. Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock. It regulates when you feel alert and sleepy based on a 24-hour schedule. But alcohol can really throw off your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
…recent studies have likened an alcohol hangover to jet-lag-like circadian disruption (i.e., phase shifts) of the body’s normal rhythm. This internal jet lag is known to promote alcohol consumption directly by causing these phase shifts in the body’s internal clock and could potentially promote drinking indirectly through a disruption of CR caused by alcohol consumption. (Wasielewski and Holloway)
Here’s how pounding too many drinks messes with your internal clock:
Another study suggests that alcohol messes up our circadian rhythm by boosting deep sleep early on and then reducing REM sleep later at night. Over time, heavy drinking severely disrupts your internal clock and ruins sleep quality. People with insomnia typically use alcohol to self-medicate, but, eventually, this sleep aid stops working and just makes insomnia worse.
The evidence is crystal clear: alcohol wreaks havoc on your sleep. Even moderate alcohol consumption disrupts sleep variables (such as those important sleep stages and sleep efficiency), making your rest far from rejuvenating.
Instead of relying on a nightcap, consider other methods: relaxation techniques, soothing teas, or even meditation. Avoid taking large amounts of alcohol hours before bed. In fact, avoid taking alcohol altogether and watch your sleep and your health reinvigorate.
Read more about why heavy drinking is so bad for your health.
Quitting alcohol can be extremely difficult, especially with distressing withdrawal symptoms. The first step in alcohol addiction treatment involves safely managing withdrawal symptoms through medical detox or holistic detox.
We offer 24/7 medication-assisted treatment to relieve withdrawal symptoms that occur when alcohol use is reduced or stopped. Or, you can choose holistic treatment, where our caring staff can help you detox from alcohol with the help of medications, exercise therapy, nutrition therapy, and even yoga.
Once detox is complete, the real work of rehabilitation begins.
We offer customized alcohol rehab treatment plans that include proven forms of therapy and counseling. Options range from intensive inpatient rehab programs where you reside at our residential treatment facility to outpatient rehab programs where you attend scheduled sessions but live at home or in a sober living facility.
For those needing an intermediate level of support, we offer intensive outpatient treatment programs and partial hospitalization programs.
We help you address the root psychological and social causes of your addiction and teach you how to achieve lasting sobriety so that your sleep or any other aspect of your mental and physical health never suffers again.
Alcohol might initially make you feel drowsy, but in the long run, alcohol disrupts the natural sleep process. Prioritize pacing your drinks and ensure you stop alcohol intake several hours before bedtime. Hydrate with water before hitting the sack. Establish a calming pre-sleep routine, such as reading or taking a warm bath, to help your body wind down, promoting better sleep post-drinking.
Remember, alcohol’s impact on your sleep may persist, even if you’ve had a few drinks earlier in the day. So, adopt good sleep habits and strive for a consistent sleep schedule.
Difficulty sleeping at night might be due to many reasons.
Assess your daily habits and establish a soothing pre-sleep routine. Minimize stimulants, create a comfortable sleep environment, and consider relaxation techniques like meditation or reading to assist in achieving a peaceful night’s rest.
Alcohol before bedtime can significantly disrupt your sleep. It may seem like a quick solution to induce sleep to have a drink before bedtime—many people resort to that, thinking it’s a safe option. Although it might initially induce drowsiness, booze interferes with the sleep cycle, resulting in fragmented and shallow sleep.
It also affects the crucial rapid eye movement (REM) stage necessary for restorative rest. Consequently, you may wake up feeling fatigued even after a full night’s sleep. Rather than relying on alcohol, explore alternative relaxation methods. Herbal teas, calming music, or a relaxing bedtime routine are better choices for a more restful night.
Chronic alcohol consumption can have adverse effects on your sleep and overall well-being. It can lead to chronic insomnia, disrupt sleep homeostasis, and elevate the risk of developing sleep disorders. Habitual drinking can also impact cognitive functions, reduce sleep quality, and potentially lead to long-term consequences such as impaired brain function.
Over time, you may even become more tolerant to alcohol, necessitating more to achieve the same sedative effect. This typically results in a cycle of poor sleep and increased alcohol consumption.
Insomnia often presents a variety of signs. The most prevalent include having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing non-restorative sleep. You might find yourself lying awake for an extended period, waking up frequently during the night, or waking too early and struggling to return to sleep. Insomnia can also result in daytime fatigue, irritability, mood disturbances, and difficulties concentrating due to inadequate or poor-quality sleep, impacting daily activities and overall well-being.
Booze might help some folks doze off faster initially, but it actually wreaks havoc on getting restful sleep all night long. Alcohol suppresses REM and slow-wave deep sleep where we consolidate memories and wake up feeling refreshed. It also interferes with sleep homeostasis, our drive to sleep after being awake awhile.
No wonder a nightcap leaves you feeling drowsy yet fitful. Studies show alcohol significantly reduces sleep quality and duration. It exacerbates common sleep disorders like sleep apnea too. Your best bet for restful sleep? Sobriety.
A few glasses of wine with dinner may help usher you into dreamland faster thanks to alcohol’s sedative properties. However, after those early stages of light sleep, it starts doing more harm than good. Booze suppresses REM and deep sleep needed to recharge. It also disrupts your sleep drive so you wake up frequently and have trouble dozing back off.
Not to mention trips to the bathroom from alcohol’s diuretic effects. Sure, you may initially doze off fast after a drink or two. But the poor sleep quality leaves you feeling exhausted anyway come morning.
A moderate drink or two (1 for women, 2 for men) has not been shown to significantly disrupt your sleep—at least not as significantly as excessive drinking. Light-moderate, occasional alcohol intake doesn’t appear to reduce normal REM sleep time or sleep efficiency for most healthy adults.
However, everyone has a unique response based on genes and tolerance. Pay attention to how your particular sleep reacts to a glass of wine or beer with dinner. As long as it’s not impairing your sleep quality or duration, an occasional drink with dinner isn’t necessarily a problem for rest.
If you already deal with insomnia or sleep apnea, alcohol often makes these issues even worse! Studies clearly show alcohol exacerbates breathing problems for those with sleep apnea. It relaxes muscles in the throat, obstructing airways.
Alcohol also worsens insomnia by disrupting sleep cycles. It causes more nighttime awakenings and shallower, less restorative sleep. For those prone to sleep disruptions, alcohol prevents the sound slumber your body and brain need to function properly. Limit intake to prevent compounding existing sleep problems.
Park, S. Y., Oh, M. K., Lee, B. S., Kim, H. G., Lee, W. J., Lee, J. H., Lim, J. M., & Kim, J. Y. (2015, January 1). The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep. Korean Journal of Family Medicine; Korean Academy of Family Medicine. https://doi.org/10.4082/kjfm.2015.36.6.294
Roehrs, T. (1995). Alcohol-Induced Sleepiness and Memory Function. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6875726/
Pacheco, D., & Pacheco, D. (2023, November 8). Alcohol and Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep
Jones, M. R., Brandner, A. J., Vendruscolo, L. F., Vendruscolo, J. C. M., Koob, G. F., & Schmeichel, B. E. (2022, June 10). Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal on Sleep Macroarchitecture and Microarchitecture in Female and Male Rats. Frontiers in Neuroscience; Frontiers Media. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2022.838486
Stein, M. D., & Friedmann, P. D. (2006, February 1). Disturbed Sleep and Its Relationship to Alcohol Use. Substance Abuse; Taylor & Francis. https://doi.org/10.1300/j465v26n01_01
Chakravorty, S., Jackson, N., Chaudhary, N. S., Kozak, P. J., Perlis, M. L., Shue, H. R., & Grandner, M. A. (2014, January 1). Daytime Sleepiness: Associations with Alcohol Use and Sleep Duration in Americans. Sleep Disorders; Hindawi Publishing Corporation. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/959152
Pabon, E., Greenlund, I. M., Carter, J. R., & De Wit, H. (2022, September 1). Effects of alcohol on sleep and nocturnal heart rate: Relationships to intoxication and morning‐after effects. Alcohol: Clinical & Experimental Research; Wiley-Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.14921
Wasielewski, J. A. (2001). Alcohol’s Interactions With Circadian Rhythms: A Focus on Body Temperature. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6707125/
Hasler, B. P., & Pedersen, S. L. (2020, August 1). Sleep and circadian risk factors for alcohol problems: a brief overview and proposed mechanisms. Current Opinion in Psychology; Elsevier BV. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.09.005