How does alcohol affect sleep quality?

Last Updated on August 17, 2021

Getting drunk can often mean inhibited cognition, slurred speech, stumbling instead of walking, and even decreased motor skills. This is why it isn’t hard to imagine what it can do to your ability to sleep peacefully at night. 

The effects of alcohol on sleep have been studied for nearly a century by researchers, and the findings are interesting and significant. Experts have done their research based on the effects of drinking in non-alcoholics, people who suffer from sleep disorders, and alcoholics. In today’s article, we’ll debunk myths about liquor as an antidote for sleep disorders and summarize some of the major research milestones.

The effects of booze on sleep can be determined by several factors, including your age, how much you drink and how close to bed you do it. By the end of this guide, you would have learned:

  • The effects of alcohol on your body and rest
  • Does it help you sleep?
  • Does it affect men and women differently?
  • What time of day is best to drink alcohol?
  • What should you drink before bed?
  • Find out if can you sleep better after drinking?

How does alcohol affect sleep quality?

does alcohol affect sleep

After an individual consumes liquor, the substance is absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into their bloodstream. Generally speaking, enzymes in the liver eventually metabolize the alcohol. However, this is a relatively slow process, accompanied by excess drinking, which continues to circulate throughout your body. With that said, the effects of booze largely depend on the person consuming it. The amount of alcohol and how quickly it is consumed, and the person’s age, sex, body type, and physical shape are important factors to consider.

The effect of liquor on sleep has been studied since the 1930s, but there are still many aspects that are still unknown. For example, research shows that people who drink a lot before going to bed are more likely to have delayed sleep onset, meaning they need more time to fall asleep. In addition, these individuals are more likely to experience sleep disruptions and a decrease in sleep quality if their blood alcohol level decreases while they sleep.

To understand how alcohol affects sleep, it is essential to talk about different stages of the human sleep cycle. A normal sleep cycle consists of three phases of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and one rapid eye movement stage (REM).

  • Stage 1 (NREM): The transition between wakefulness and sleep is called the initial stage of sleep. Your muscles start to relax, and your heart beats slower. Brain activity begins to go down, as well. This is also known as the light sleep phase.
  • Stage 2 (NREM): As the person progresses toward deeper sleep, their heartbeat and breathing rates continue to slow down. Their eyes become still, and their body temperature decreases. The longest stage of the sleep cycle is typically Stage 2.
  • Stage 3 (NREM): Brain activity, breathing rates and heartbeat all reach their lowest levels in this stage. The muscles are completely relaxed, and eye movements cease. This stage is referred to as slow-wave sleep.
  • REM Stage: REM sleep kicks in about 90 minutes after a person falls asleep. This is the phase where eye movements will resume and the sleeper’s breathing rate and heartbeat quicken. During REM sleep, the majority of dreaming takes place. It is believed that this stage plays a role in memory consolidation.

During the night, the four NREM and REM stages repeat. Usually, each cycle lasts between 90-120 minutes, which results in four to five cycles for every eight hours of sleep. REM sleep lasts no longer than 10 minutes for the first one or two cycles, whereas NREM slow-wave sleep lasts longer. However, REM will become a more dominant phase in later cycles, lasting 40 minutes or longer without interruption, and NREM will cease during these cycles.

During the first two cycles of REM sleep, drinking alcohol before bed can add to the suppression. With that said, there are some drinkers who fall into a deep sleep much quicker than others because alcohol is a sedative. As the night progresses, this can result in less REM sleep and more slow-wave sleep. This results in shorter sleep duration and more sleep disruptions.

Does alcohol help you sleep?

Does alcohol help you sleep?

Alcohol can allow you to fall asleep quickly because of its sedative properties. However, people who drink before bed experience disruptions in their sleep due to the alcohol’s effects on the body. This can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and other issues the following day. Furthermore, if you drink in order to fall asleep easier, you will have to consume more alcohol each night to get the effects you’re looking for.

To put it simply, alcohol not only doesn’t help you to fall asleep, but it can also be considerably harmful with a negative impact on your body, cause sleep disruptions and poor quality of sleep. It can even lead to sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. 

Does alcohol affect men and women differently?

Does alcohol affect men and women differently?

In general, women are more likely to show signs of intoxication earlier and have less alcohol in their system than men. There are two factors that can account for this. The first one is that women tend to weigh less than men, and those with lower body weights are more likely to become intoxicated quickly. Also, the amount of water in a woman’s body is lower than that of a man.

After consuming the same amount of liquor, women are more likely to have higher concentrations of it in their blood than men. This is why it’s safe to say that booze affects both genders differently. 

What time of day is best to have alcohol?

What time of day is best to have alcohol?

According to “The Sleep Doctor,” Michael Breus, M.D., you shouldn’t have alcoholic drinks before sleep, and you should stick to 2-3 alcoholic drinks per week. One cocktail after work, a beer in the afternoon, or a glass of wine with dinner will give you enough time to fall asleep and not interrupt your quality rest. 

We highly recommend you avoid drinking liquor a couple of hours before bedtime, so you can go into blissful slumber without any disruptions and stay asleep throughout the night. If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s best if you talk with a professional, but in the meantime, you can take a look at our guide with the ‘Top 30 Tips on how to sleep better at night.’

What should I drink before bed?

What should I drink before bed?

An herbal tea with ingredients like lavender or valerian root would be a better choice than alcohol before bed. In general, teas are an excellent drink at nighttime, which is why you can check our article on ‘The Top 10 teas to improve your sleep.’ Also, there are other drinks that can help you relax, such as a glass of warm milk or even a banana smoothie. If you want to learn more on the subject, check ‘Best drinks before bed.’ 

How can I sleep better after drinking?

If you want to avoid a disrupted night’s sleep, the best thing to do is not drink liquor or have more than one drink early in the evening. If you have sleep problems, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about conducting a sleep study. Set professional might even ask you to keep a sleep diary and change your sleep hygiene. Yes, it is important to stay hydrated before bed, but that means water and not more alcohol.

What you can do is try alternating alcohol with water as the night goes on, and at some point, stop the liquor and give your body time before you go to bed. It’s a good idea to cut yourself off early so you can sleep better. A warm cup of herbal tea with honey will be way more beneficial and will help you sleep better. You can also consider other factors to improve your chances of a better night’s rest, such as cooler room temperature and overall bedroom environment. 

Bottom line

If you want to get a good night’s sleep, try cutting back on your alcohol consumption. It’s fine for most people to have one or two drinks. However, even one drink can negatively affect sleep quality for some people.

Keeping a consistent sleep schedule, turning down the heat in your room and avoiding eating right before bed are some of the sleep tips that can help you get a good night’s rest. Now it’s our turn to hear from you if any questions regarding the subject were left unanswered. If you want to share some information, we would gladly hear about it in the comments below.

Isabelle Harris
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