How Alcohol Really Affects Your Sleep

For years, it’s been believed that a nightcap before bed will help send you drifting off to Dream Land.

The reality of the situation isn’t quite so simple.

While alcohol may help you to fall asleep faster at first, as it acts as a suppressant in the brain and induces drowsiness, drinking it before bed can have an adverse effect on your overall sleep quality.

Alcohol actually prevents you from achieving all of the stages of sleep that you need for your body and brain to become refreshed, and allow you to wake up feeling well-rested. That’s why you often wake up feeling like you haven’t slept at all after a night of heavy drinking, even if you were in bed for longer than usual, as alcoholic beverages can cause you to miss out on restive REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and pass straight into deep sleep.

The average adult should have six to seven cycles of REM sleep to be able to wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. When alcohol enters the picture, most sleepers only achieve one or two cycles of REM sleep, causing them to feel as if they got much less sleep than they actually did.

Missing out on REM sleep can cause you to feel groggy and unproductive the next day – not an ideal state of being for performing at your peak while working.

It’s also been found that people suffering from depression, stress, or insomnia are also more likely to turn to alcohol to help them to get to sleep, unknowingly making all of these conditions worse.

When the drowsiness brought on by alcohol wears off, people wake up feeling worse than they did before falling asleep, and end up being tormented by hangover symptoms, such as dehydration, headache, and even gastrointestinal upset.

Even though alcohol initially affects the body as a stimulant and increases your feeling of well-being, it soon turns into a sedative, causing you to feel sleepy and groggy. This causes a rapid change in brain functioning, which can lead to even greater feelings of depression and anxiety.

There’s also the fact that everyone processes alcohol differently, and many people need to up their “dosage” in order to continue to achieve the initial sleep-inducing effects that drinking it before bedtime can bring. This becomes a vicious (not to mention extremely dangerous) cycle.

Health experts recommend avoiding alcohol consumption before bed as often as possible, and limiting your intake to no more than a handful of drinks spread out over a week’s time. This will help limit your risk of becoming dependent on alcohol and prevent it from inhibiting your ability to get the high-quality sleep that you need.

If you find yourself having trouble getting to sleep, try these simple (and alcohol-free) tips:

  • Try sipping some hot herbal tea before bed
  • Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive
  • Keep your bedroom cool and free of clutter
  • Relieve stress and physical aches with yoga before bedtime
  • Keep your head clear and ready for a good night’s sleep by writing down what’s on your mind before turning in for the night