Substance Use

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Sleep?

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Alcohol might seem like a shortcut to a good night’s sleep due to its sedative effects, but the truth is far from simple. Initially, drinking alcohol or taking sleep medicine can make you feel sleepy and fall asleep faster. However, this short-lived benefit comes with several drawbacks that affect the quality of your rest.

As the body begins to process alcohol during the night, it disrupts normal sleep patterns. Instead of entering deep, restorative stages of sleep, individuals spend more time in lighter sleep phases.

This results in less restful sleep and can lead to waking up frequently throughout the night once the relaxing effects wear off.

Consuming alcohol before bed affects REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) —the stage in the sleep cycle associated with dreaming—which becomes significantly reduced or fragmented after drinking. REM is crucial for cognitive functions and neurology, such as memory consolidation and mood regulation; thus, impairing it can leave one feeling groggy or unfocused in the morning. (1)

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How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

Studies show that while alcohol does help healthy people fall asleep faster and into deeper sleep sooner, it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

REM sleep usually happens about 90 minutes after a sober person falls asleep; it’s the stage when people dream, and it’s considered the phase of sleep where restoration happens. This will occur towards the second half of the night.

When REM sleep is disrupted, it can lead to:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Sluggishness
  • Poor concentration
  • Bad mood
  • Depression and other mental health effects

 On a normal night, people cycle through episodes of the following sleep durations:

  1. Light sleep
  2. Deep sleep
  3. REM sleep

While every stage has its benefits and importance, REM sleep and deep sleep are considered the most important for physical and mental health and restoration.

Alcohol’s sedative effects help us fall into the deep sleep stage of sleep faster, but it’s only short-lived. (2)

After alcohol wears off, the body spends more time in light sleep, resulting in more sleep disruptions in slow-wave sleep.

Alcohol and Melatonin Production

Alcohol has also been shown to alter melatonin production and the body’s circadian rhythm, which is responsible for keeping the body on a 24-hour cycle. Melatonin regulates sleep and awake times, making it easier to fall asleep. (3)

As part of the 24-hour cycle, the body releases melatonin in the first half of the night to prepare you for sleep at night. Studies have found that consuming alcohol before bed lowers melatonin levels and interferes with body temperature, compromising overall sleep quality.

The relationship between alcohol and melatonin production underscores a critical aspect of how our bodies manage sleep. By disturbing melatonin levels, alcohol directly impacts this natural rhythm, making it more challenging for individuals to fall asleep at the right time or experience deep, restorative sleep.

Moreover, the disruption caused by alcohol extends beyond just immediate effects on melatonin; it can lead to longer-term disturbances in circadian rhythms. This misalignment may not only result in difficulty initiating sleep but also contribute to erratic wake times and a general sense of lethargy during daylight hours—symptoms commonly associated with jet lag but induced here by substance use.

While many might seek out alcoholic beverages as a means of relaxation after a long day or because of sleep problems, hoping they will aid the transition into slumber, their actual effect could be counterproductive.

Alcohol and Insomnia

Statistics show that insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. It makes it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, and/or causes people to wake up too early. (4)

People who consume alcohol before bed often end up experiencing symptoms of insomnia, whether or not they normally suffer from the condition. Even irregular occurrences of insomnia can start impacting a person’s daily quality of life and functioning while also starting a chain reaction of self-medication where people use booze as a crutch to fall asleep. 

Since the alcohol disrupts their sleep, they wake up tired and self-medicate with caffeine, energy drinks, and other stimulants to help keep them awake. Then, at night, they use more alcohol to help them come down from their stimulant-induced “up.”

Sleep deprivation can have some pretty significant health side effects, including: (5)

  • Mood swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Issues with the central nervous system
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Weakened immune system
  • Decreased performance at work/school
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Increased risk of obesity and diabetes

Instead of turning to alcohol or increasing your alcohol intake to help you fall or stay asleep, try some of these healthy sleep habits:

  • Avoid afternoon or evening naps
  • Read a book, take a hot bath, meditate, or do something else that relaxes you before bed.
  • Avoid drinking caffeine in the afternoon
  • Establish a regular sleep routine and schedule
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day

Alcohol and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night, leading to sleep disruptions and poor sleep quality. People with sleep apnea typically snore very loudly.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter whether you have sleep apnea or the amount of alcohol you consume; drinking alcohol before bed can cause snoring. (6)

Researchers believe that consuming alcohol increases the risk of sleep apnea by 25%. People with this condition often experience disrupted sleep due to these interruptions in breathing, but adding alcohol into the mix exacerbates the problem significantly. Obstructive sleep apnea could occur in the short term. (7)

Because alcohol impairs your body’s natural arousal mechanisms—that wake you up when breathing stops—the risk of serious complications from untreated or aggravated sleep apnea goes up. It means someone might not wake up as quickly or easily if their breathing is interrupted after drinking alcohol.

Alcohol and Nightmares

Alcohol can really mess with the kind of dreams you have, making them super intense or even scary. This happens because when you drink alcohol before bed, it throws off your normal sleep cycle.

Normally, as you sleep, your brain goes through different stages including one called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) where most dreaming happens. Alcohol cuts down on your REM sleep early in the night and then increases it after the alcohol wears off, leading to a burst of vivid dreaming or nightmares.

These intense dreams or nightmares can shock you awake in the middle of the night. Once these awakenings happen, returning to dreamland isn’t always easy; you might find yourself tossing and turning instead because of increased brain activity.

Over time, this pattern not only chops up your sleep but also makes quality rest harder since good sleep relies on going through all those different brain stages smoothly.

Alcohol and Sleepwalking 

When alcohol dependence gets in the mix, it doesn’t just affect how well you sleep—it can also lead to some unexpected nighttime adventures like sleepwalking. This happens because alcohol disrupts the normal pattern of your sleep cycles, particularly during the deeper stages when you’re supposed to be most at rest.

Instead of peacefully snoozing, you might find yourself up and about without even knowing it.

Sleepwalking under the influence isn’t just wandering around your room; it can involve talking or performing complex tasks while still technically asleep. The real kicker? You usually don’t remember any of it happening once you fully wake up.

This kind of activity poses risks not only for embarrassing moments but also for serious injuries if stairs are involved or if you accidentally leave your home.

Since alcohol impairs judgment and coordination—even in a semi-conscious state—these nocturnal escapades could be more hazardous than usual sleepwalking episodes. It’s one thing to navigate your bedroom layout sober and quite another when impaired. (8)

This connection between booze and somnambulism underscores why moderating alcohol intake is crucial, especially before hitting the hay. Limiting those late-night drinks could help keep both feet firmly in bed until morning light—not wandering around in potentially risky situations half-asleep.

Tips For Better Sleep: Ways to Reduce the Impact of Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can mess with how well and how long you sleep. Even though it might make you sleepy at first, it can break up your sleep later in the night, leaving you feeling less rested.

Here are some ways to lessen alcohol’s bad effects on your sleep: (9)

  • Cut Back on Alcohol Drinking: The best way to dodge the negative effects of alcohol on sleep is by drinking less or not too close to bedtime. Try having drinks earlier if you’re going out, and steer clear of heavy drinking.
  • Drink in Moderation: If you do drink, keep it light. Smaller amounts of alcohol are less likely to disturb your sleep.
  • No Booze Before Bed: Avoid drinking for a few hours before hitting the sack. Alcohol makes it harder for your body to get into deep sleep stages where real rest happens.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink lots of water alongside alcoholic beverages after finishing up for the night. Alcohol dehydrates you, which can screw with your snooze and leave you dragging the next day.
  • Chill Out Before Bedtime: Get into a calm pre-sleep routine that tells your body it’s time to shut down—like reading or listening to mellow music—not scrolling through social media or answering emails.
  • Watch Your Caffeine Intake: Cut back on caffeine late in the day because, like booze, caffeine can also interfere with falling asleep, the quality of sleep, and staying asleep.
  • Make Your Bedroom Snooze-Friendly: Ensure the bedroom is ideal for sleeping by keeping it cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable. You can even add blackout curtains and a sound machine to help block noise disturbances.
  • Limit Evening Screen Time: Ease off electronics before heading hit hay blue lights screens mess natural cycles making tougher nod off.

Alcohol Withdrawal and Sleep

Sleep disturbances from alcohol withdrawal happen frequently. In fact, trouble sleeping is a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal.

Some estimates show that up to 72% of people with alcohol withdrawal symptoms also have insomnia. (10)

Sleep disturbances can sometimes arise from the uneasy symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heavy sweating
  • Fever
  • Racing heart
  • Nightmares

This is why finding professional help at a detox center to mitigate the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is so important to avoid relapsing or feeling as if you have to have a “nightcap” to get the symptoms of withdrawal to stop and be able to sleep.

Zinnia Health Can Help

While the immediate relaxing effects of alcohol might seem enticing as a sleep aid, its overall impact on sleep quality and bodily functions is undeniably negative. Alcohol disrupts crucial processes such as melatonin production and circadian rhythm regulation, leading to poor sleep patterns, decreased REM stages, and compromised restorative rest.

These disturbances affect next-day energy levels and cognitive function and can have longer-term health implications. Understanding the complex relationship between alcohol consumption and sleep is key to making informed decisions about our nightly routines.

By prioritizing healthy habits that support natural biological rhythms—such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and seeking alternative relaxation methods—we can significantly improve our well-being in the short and long term.

Are you ready to break free from the chains of alcoholism or alcohol use disorders? Call Zinnia Health’s alcohol addiction hotline today at (855) 430-9439. We have a broad range of treatment options and different types of therapy at our treatment facilities nationwide, including inpatient and outpatient treatment options, group therapy, family therapy, and much more. Recovery is possible with Zinnia Health.

Don’t wait any longer to get your life back. Contact us today. Our team of intake specialists is standing by 24/7.


Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
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