You might find that having some wine, beer, or a cocktail or two will make you drowsy. About 30 percent of people with insomnia have reported using alcohol to help them sleep (1). It may be true that drinking alcohol before bed can help you fall asleep initially, but it will also lead to more disruptive and poor-quality sleep. Let’s discuss what happens to your body when you go to sleep after drinking alcohol.
How does alcohol affect REM Sleep?
The REM (rapid eye movement) sleep cycle begins about 90 minutes after falling asleep and typically recurs every 90 minutes. This is the stage that people dream, when brain activity increases, and eyes move around quickly. Experts believe that REM sleep is important, offering restorative benefits and helps to process emotions. While alcohol is being metabolized, REM is suppressed (1). This causes more frequent disruptions and wakeups during the second half of sleep (2). Decreased REM sleep can lead to feeling groggy and unfocused the next day (2).
Your circadian rhythm is also known as your sleep-wake cycle. It’s is your 24-hour internal clock. Our circadian rhythm regulates sleep as well as many other processes in the body. Research shows that alcohol use can throw off your sleep-wake cycle by causing fluctuations in hormones like melatonin, and changes in body temperature (2). A study indicates that a moderate dose of alcohol up to an hour before bedtime can reduce melatonin production by nearly 20 percent (3). Even at low doses, alcohol has effects on the central nervous system (CNS), where the neurotransmitters GABA and glutamate are both involved in the sleep cycle (1).
How much alcohol is too much?
Research states that alcohol-related effects on sleep are dose-related, as lower amounts of alcohol would increase sleep time (4). Studies suggest that 2 to 3 standard drinks can initially promote sleep but will not be as effective after 3 consecutive days (4). Heavy drinking and/or drinking every day is more likely to affect sleep and circadian rhythm. Having a drink earlier in the evening, at “happy hour” time, may be better than right before bed. Limit the amount and opt for something else a few days a week when you might otherwise have alcohol.
Healthy habits to improve sleep
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
- Get regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime.
- Set a consistent sleep schedule.
- Relax before bed: sip tea, take a bath, read a book, and put the screens down.
These tips, along with a personalized vitamin program, could help you get better sleep. Take our free online assessment to see what your body really needs. Ready to find the right high-quality vitamins for you? Get your recommendations.
- Roehrs T, Roth T. Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-2/101-109.htm. Accessed November 13, 2019.
- Colrain IM, Nicholas CL, Baker FC. Alcohol and the sleeping brain. Handb Clin Neurol. 2014;125:415-31.
- Rupp TL, Acebo C, Carskadon MA. Evening alcohol suppresses salivary melatonin in young adults. Chronobiol Int. 2007;24(3):463-70.
- Stein MD, Friedmann PD. Disturbed sleep and its relationship to alcohol use. Subst Abus. 2005;26(1):1-13.