Alcohol & Insomnia: How Alcohol Affects Sleep

Sleepwalking and parasomnias —You may experience moving a lot or talking while you’re sleeping. There’s a chance you’ll physically act out your dreams in your sleep, or evensleepwalk. If you have alcohol in your system when you hit the hay, you may not sleep very deeply, or for very long, on and off throughout the night. That’s because as alcohol starts to metabolize, the sedative effect wears off. Sure, that nightcap, last glass of wine or beer before bed may help you feel sleepy. But it can actually end up robbing you of a good night’s rest — or worse, could cause some challenging sleep problems.

Does alcohol increase REM sleep?

According to the findings, alcohol does allow healthy people to fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply for a while, but it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. And the more you drink before bed, the more pronounced these effects.

This one-page fact sheet provides a concise explanation of the impacts of alcohol consumption on people’s sleep. Alcohol consumption can affect the quality and duration of sleep, suppress REM sleep, and worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea and insomnia. Last, it offers five simple tips to help people improve their sleep. Drinking before bed is also linked with more slow-wave sleep patterns called delta activity, but alpha activity, which indicates wakefulness with eyes closed and often precedes sleep, is turned on at the same time. Experiencing these two brain wave activities at the same time is thought to inhibit quality rest. Additionally, alcohol inhibits REM sleep, which is often considered the most mentally restorative phase of sleep.

Research: Does alcohol help you fall asleep?

You’re less likely to spend enough time in REM sleep and you’re more likely to sleep poorly. Carbonated alcoholic beverages are absorbed by your body faster, which can make you tipsy faster and make it harder for you to fall asleep. You probably remember from basic biology that humans have a sleep cycle that travels between REM and non-REM sleep. Your brain waves start to slow down, your heartbeat and breathing slow, and your muscles relax. On the surface, alcohol’s sedative effects can feel like they would ease the symptoms of insomnia and help you fall asleep. But given the likelihood of REM sleep disruptions and frequent waking, it’s not recommended that anyone use alcohol to treat their insomnia symptoms.

  • In the long term, frequent disruptions to our natural sleep cycle may alter the homeostatic drive in a more permanent way.
  • Insomnia is one of the largest setback triggers for people in recovery from an alcohol use disorder.
  • You know that woozy boozy feeling you get after a certain number of cocktails, the one that makes you feel like you could fall fast asleep for the whole night?
  • In this article, we’ll bust some common myths and uncover a few sobering truths about how alcohol affects your sleep.
  • When you don’t get enough REM sleep, you won’t feel rested, and you’ll see that influence your performance the day after.

Figure 2 (adapted from gives an example of the proportions of wakefulness (pre-sleep and throughout the night), and different sleep stages in alcoholic and control men and women. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that causes brain activity to slow down. Alcohol has sedative effects that can induce feelings of relaxation and sleepiness, but the consumption of alcohol – especially alcohol and sleep in excess – has been linked to poor sleep quality and duration. People with alcohol use disorders commonly experience insomnia symptoms. Studies have shown that alcohol use can exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea. Alcohol may also exert some of its effects on sleep by influencing the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is responsible for keeping the body anchored to a 24-hour cycle.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Sleep?

It’s classified as a central nervous system depressant because it slows brain function, mostly via gamma-aminobutyric acid , a neurotransmitter that produces a calming effect. As alcohol increases GABA activity in the brain, you may start to feel sleepy. Persistent insomnia, abstinence, and moderate drinking in alcohol-dependent individuals. Two fifths (20.8%) of 4,065 subjects older than 15 years (95% CI [19.6, 22.1]) in one study were reported to experience insomnia symptoms at least three nights per week (Ohayon & Sagales, 2010). “If you experience insomnia, mood imbalances and other brain symptoms, it may be best to cut back alcohol intake overall,” Dr. Scheller adds. “Many people find that while it initially seems difficult to break the habit of using alcohol to induce sleep, they soon adjust and experience better sleep and energy overall,” she continues.

Why do alcoholics sleep a lot?

Alcohol may aid with sleep onset due to its sedative properties, allowing you to fall asleep more quickly. However, people who drink before bed often experience disruptions later in their sleep cycle as liver enzymes metabolize alcohol.

Heart rate, breathing, and brain activity reach their lowest levels. In REM or stage 4, breathing and heart rate quicken, and eye movement starts back up. Reducing your alcohol intake, especially in the hours leading up to your bedtime, can help you wake up well-rested and energized in the morning. In addition, since poor sleep can negatively affect one’s health, the benefits of a restful night go beyond feeling alert in the morning.

The day after and long-term effects of alcohol

But if you have sleep apnea, the muscles in your airway narrow more than they should. When they narrow, you may snore loudly and disrupt your partner. But when your airway is blocked, you’ll stop breathing for a second. This causes you to wake up many times in the night to tighten the muscles and restart the flow of air through your lungs. There are a few things that can increase your risk of developing sleep apnea. Being overweight can also contribute to sleep apnea, as well as hereditary factors like the shape of your neck and throat. Finally, regular drinking has been linked to insomnia and other sleep disorders, especially later in life.

Are you in a cycle of drinking every night, feeling tired during the day, and drinking the next night to help you fall asleep? When you drink in the evening, you don’t get enough REM sleep during the night. You reach for a coffee or another stimulant to give you energy for the day.

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Doing so without medical supervision can trigger a new addiction to another substance. Medically Reviewed By Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmDA licensed behavioral health or medical professional on The Recovery Village Editorial Team has analyzed and confirmed every statistic, study and https://ecosoberhouse.com/ medical claim on this page. Some of these nerve stems produce serotonin, a chemical that has been linked to the onset of sleep and with the regulation of slow-wave sleep. Other nerve cells produce norepinephrine, which has been found to regulate REM sleep and facilitate arousal.

  • Data are reported from a baseline night; the first and ninth alcohol nights and a recovery night.
  • Xi MC, Morales FR, Chase MH. A GABAergic pontine reticular system is involved in the control of wakefulness and sleep.
  • After a few drinks, these increased adenosine levels send us into a deep sleep.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to obstructive sleep apnea.