Does Alcohol Help You Sleep? What You Need to Know Before Bed

wine in bed

Who hasn’t enjoyed the feeling of your head hitting the pillow after a long night out on the town? Those mojitos were pretty good but now your body is demanding you sleep. 

But how much rest do we actually get after we’ve had a drink? Or are we unaware of the potentially negative effects it can have on us? In this article we ask, does alcohol help you sleep? 

Here’s what you need to know before going to bed.

Does Alcohol Help You Sleep?

There have been multiple studies conducted over the years to explore the effects of alcohol on the body during sleep. 

A 2008 study on substance abuse reveals a correlation between disturbed sleep cycles and alcohol consumption. While a few drinks before bed is thought to promote sleep, this soon ceases after three days of continuous use. 

Thereafter, alcohol is believed to hinder healthy sleeping habits. This doesn’t conclusively answer our question, as rigorous and cross-sectional studies observing the connection between alcohol dependence and sleep leaves much to be desired. 

To understand how alcohol affects us while we sleep, we should discover the science behind an average night’s rest.

What Happens When We Sleep?

The body goes through four to five different stages of sleep cycles per night, alternating between non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). 

For a healthy and restorative rest, the body must go through these varying stages lasting 90-120 minutes each. When we start to fall asleep, the body begins to relax, our heartbeat decreases and brain activity slows down. 

Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) is prevalent for the first two cycles of an average eight-hour rest; where your body will start to fall deeper into sleep, your heart rate decreases and eye movement becomes still. 

The next stage is where alcohol can prove to be an issue. REM sleep is the stage in which eye movement will increase, the motor cortex becomes more active and you’ll begin to dream deeply. 

The Importance of REM Sleep 

Alcohol intake before bed has been proven to negatively interact with REM sleep. 

Despite the sedative effects of liquor initially helping you to doze off and fall asleep faster, your brain’s inability to transition successfully from slow-wave to REM sleep becomes apparent. REM sleep is crucial for an adequate night’s rest, as it’s responsible for leaving you feeling refreshed when you wake up. Alcohol can inhibit REM sleep, leading you to miss several of these vital cycles and wake up feeling exhausted.

Have you ever found yourself tossing and turning in bed after a night out? This is due to the way alcohol interacts with REM sleep; disrupting the most restorative phase of a nocturnal cycle and promoting insomnia in a significant few. 

With or without alcoholic intake, many suffer from Insomnia around the world. This can lead to a deterioration in lifestyle and negatively impact a once healthy routine. 

Does Alcohol Cause Insomnia?

Data shows an added increase of insomnia sufferers in those dependent on alcohol. According to the 2001 National Epidemiologic Survey, 36% to 91% of people tackling acute alcohol withdrawal (AWD) also suffer from insomnia. 

The study assesses, “AWD-related insomnia is a common symptom among alcohol-dependent adults in the general population and is related to lifetime co-occurring diagnoses, age at onset of alcohol dependence, and duration of heaviest drinking period.”

Evidence that a balanced alcohol intake can be good for health remains mostly unexplored. What constitutes a “balanced” intake should be considered first before coming to a conclusion. 

Determining a person’s age, physical shape, gender and body type are all important variables in considering the effects of alcohol-induced sleep. 

Does Alcohol Cause Sleep Apnea?

Alcohol consumption before bed can also have an impact on those who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. 

Sleep apnea is a condition experienced by many and can lead to additional health issues if left untreated. A temporary loss of breath, abnormal breathing, frequent disturbances and loud snoring may indicate you suffer from OSA. Just one serving of alcohol before you sleep can exacerbate the condition and even trigger sleep apnea in those who’ve never suffered from it before. 

The correlation between sleep apnea and alcohol consumption has been observed throughout the years and studies conclude a 25% increased chance of sleep apnea in those regularly consuming alcohol.

The Verdict 

It appears the negative effects of alcohol are unequivocal according to the journal Addiction notes April issue, stating, “Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol on a routine basis can raise blood pressure and also increases the risk of heart rhythm problems such as atrial fibrillation. And chronic heavy drinking can lead to a form of heart failure known as alcoholic cardiomyopathy.” 

The ability to metabolize alcohol declines with age, causing increased blood pressure in those older than 65 and should consider the different ways alcohol can affect you compared to younger people. 

For example, older individuals using medication may experience dizziness and other adverse effects of mixing the two. An estimated 15% to 30% of people use alcohol as a way of falling to sleep. 

But did you know, your alcohol tolerance can increase until no quantity of liquor will prove efficient enough to induce rest? To summarise, alcohol consumption as a solution for insomnia proves ineffective after repeated use.

To Conclude

So does alcohol help you sleep? Research on what happens to the body while asleep under the influence has been conducted since the 1930s, and the past century has seen us discover countless data on our relationship with alcohol and sleep. 

Our everyday environments promote the consumption of alcohol all the time. Birthdays, weddings, parties and work events all call for a good time. 

If you do find yourself drinking regularly, take responsible steps to ensure you maintain habitual sleeping habits. To reduce the chances of a disturbed sleep cycle, avoid drinking alcohol at least four hours before bed and give yourself some deserved rest.



Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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