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How does alcohol affect your sleep?

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.

Table of Contents

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!

Susan H


Is alcohol good for sleep?

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:

  1. Alcohol disrupts the normal sleep cycle.
  2. It reduces the time spent in deep, restorative sleep. 
  3. The more you drink, the worse the quality of your sleep.
  4. Booze causes fragmented sleep: you’ll wake up more during the night.
  5. Alcohol suppresses rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, important for memory and learning. 
  6. Alcohol interferes with your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and sleep drive.
  7. It can cause or exacerbate insomnia and other sleep disorders.
  8. It leads to daytime fatigue and grogginess.

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

Is alcohol a sedative?

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:

  • Make you feel relaxed.
  • Lower your body temperature. 
  • Slow down your brain’s activity. 

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.

How does alcohol disrupt sleep architecture?

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. 

  1. The non-REM sleep stage has four different but equally important stages:
    • Stages 1 and 2 are light transitional sleep stages with slowed brain waves. You’re just starting to doze off. Your muscles relax, breathing slows, and you become disengaged from your surroundings.
    • Stages 3 and 4 make the so-called deep slow-wave sleep. Your body needs these non-REM stages the most in order to get physical renewal. Breathing and heart rate reach their lowest levels as your muscles fully relax. Your cells replenish, tissues grow and repair, energy is restored and hormones like growth hormone are secreted. These are the most restorative sleep stages.
  2. REM sleep is crucial for cognitive functions such as mood regulation, learning, and memory formation. Your brain consolidates new information and memories from the day. During REM, you have vivid dreams since your brain is highly active. 

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.

Alcohol suppresses REM sleep

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.”

Alcohol causes sleep fragmentation

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.

Heavy drinking reduces the efficiency and quality of sleep

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.

  1. Alcohol causes daytime fatigue and drowsiness. Because booze reduces the restorative REM and deep sleep your body needs, you don’t get to recharge while you sleep. You wake up feeling groggy no matter how long you slept and feel sleepy throughout the day. Your brain is stuck in a fog because it didn’t get restored while you slept. Chakravorty, et. al. suggest that “heavy alcohol consumption is associated with shorter sleep durations, and objective daytime sleepiness may be associated with acute alcohol use/alcohol abuse in association with sleep deprivation.”
  2. Heavy drinking impairs cognition and focus. Your brain consolidates new information and memories during REM and deep sleep. Without enough restorative sleep, mental faculties like memory, concentration, learning, and sharp thinking suffer. Give it enough time and booze and you may start experiencing more serious cognitive issues: permanent memory loss, decreased processing speed, and reduced mental agility. A 2022 study found that “sleep disruptions lead to poorer cognitive performance [which] suggests that the effects of alcohol on sleep may contribute to next‐day impairments.”
  3. Alcohol increases the risk of sleep disorders. Alcohol worsens the frequency and severity of many pre-existing sleep disturbances as well: insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and others. For those already struggling with insomnia, alcohol only pumps the brakes on their ability to fall and stay asleep. 

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.

What does excessive drinking do to your circadian rhythm?

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:

  1. Alcohol suppresses the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone that makes you feel drowsy at night. This makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. 
  2. Alcohol alters your body temperature. This occurs because it dilates the blood vessels, which lowers core body temperature slightly. The body doesn’t get the proper temperature cues that signal when it should feel sleepy versus alert.
  3. It disrupts the rise in morning cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle and energizes you to wake up feeling alert. By blunting the morning cortisol surge, alcohol makes it harder to fully wake up and feel refreshed, contributing to lingering drowsiness.
  4. Heavy drinking at night impairs your ability to fall asleep on time and wake up feeling refreshed. Instead, you feel groggy during the day and wide awake when you want to sleep.
  5. Over time, the chronic sleep disruptions caused by excessive alcohol consumption can lead to permanent alterations in your sleep-wake cycle. Your circadian clock doesn’t know when it’s supposed to make you sleepy or alert.

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.

How to treat alcohol addiction

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 and sleep FAQ

How can I improve sleep after drinking alcohol?

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.

Why am I struggling to sleep at night?

Difficulty sleeping at night might be due to many reasons. 

  • Maybe you’re consuming alcohol before bedtime. This can disrupt your natural sleep cycle. 
  • Stress and anxiety do a number on your sleep. Irregular sleep patterns and excessive screen time before bed can interfere with your body’s ability to relax. 
  • You consumed caffeine later in the day. 

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.

Is it detrimental to drink alcohol before bedtime?

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.

What are the consequences of daily alcohol consumption?

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.

What are the three indicators of insomnia?

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.

What is the negative impact of alcohol on sleep?

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.

What are the acute effects of alcohol on sleep?

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.

How does moderate drinking impact sleep?

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.

Why does alcohol make sleep problems worse?

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

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