How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

We’ve covered the effects of using electronics before bed in several blog posts (check out the most recent one here).

According to some doctors, drinking alcohol before bed may be even more disruptive to your sleep.

Learn about the effects of alcohol on sleep.

Alcohol makes sleep apnea worse

Alcohol use exacerbates sleep apnea risk because it inhibits your body’s ability to breathe while sleeping.

Alcohol not only relaxes you after a long week at the office, but it also relaxes the muscles in your throat making it more likely for the upper airway to collapse, causing snoring or obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious disease affecting many Americans. If undiagnosed, it can lead to serious health issues such as stroke, heart disease and hypertension (learn more about health effects of sleep apnea here).

Low doses of alcohol may help insomnia (but there are risks)

Alcohol may help you fall asleep because it acts like a sedative. According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, 30% of people with persistent insomnia in the general population have reported using alcohol to help them sleep in the past year, and 67% of those people have reported that alcohol was effective in inducing sleep.

The problem with using alcohol to treat insomnia is that it’s effects may be reduced as a tolerance is developed, leading to excessive alcohol consumption. Additionally, while alcohol consumption at night may help you fall asleep faster, it may also cause daytime sleepiness or have other performance-impairing effects. 

Furthermore, any “positive” effects of alcohol may be mitigated by the disruption to the sleep cycle (see below) or worsening of other conditions, like sleep apnea (see above).

What are the long-term affects of alcohol on sleep?

After about the first hour and a half of sleep your body falls into a REM cycle, but alcohol can actually reduce the effectiveness of that sleep stage or even skip the first cycle. This is when you dream and it’s considered the most restorative sleep state. Typically there are six to seven cycles of REM sleep which is combined with deep sleep cycles (learn more about sleep basics here).

Alcohol consumption leads to missing several REM cycles, which leaves your mind sleep-deprived. The REM cycle restores your brain while deep sleep restores your body. Since alcohol can put you directly into a deep sleep, it gives off the sensation of having had a restful sleep, but you can wake up mentally exhausted. This is why staying asleep for more than a few hours after drinking can be difficult. This can have a cumulative effect to the extent of having the same issues even after abstaining from alcohol.

Do you depend on alcohol each night to fall asleep?

Most doctors will agree that for healthy, non-alcoholics, one to two drinks will only cause a minimal effect (depending on other health factors, including your BMI), but any more than that can adversely affect your much-needed rest. If you have been relying on alcohol to try to sleep better, there could be an underlying condition that you may not even be aware of that is preventing you from a restful sleep. If you have a hard time falling or staying asleep or wake up in the morning after a long period of sleep and still feel tired, you may have a sleep disorder. 

Talk to your doctor about your sleep. 

Learn More about Sleep Apnea


Other posts you may find interesting:


  1. John Hamilton Reply

    Doctors are so full of righteousness they are blind. Alcohol, whiskey has cured my appeal for over 10yrs. When you ignore science your a idiot!!

  2. High Rated Gabru Reply

    Just love this blog post.

  3. Edward Isaac Reply

    Alcohol not only relaxes you after a long week at the office, but it also relaxes the muscles in your throat making it more likely for the upper airway to collapse, causing snoring or obstructive sleep apnea.

Leave a Comment