Everyone enjoys a good drink every once in a while, whether it’s a craft beer, an elaborate cocktail, or a glass of fine wine. But, the popular question usually is - does alcohol help you sleep?
Because alcohol is a depressant, one of the biggest myths around it is that a drink before bedtime can help you get a good night’s sleep. But while alcohol might help you fall asleep faster, that’s the extent of its sleep-related benefits.
Right away we can answer the question this post poses: yes, alcohol does hurt your sleep. If you want to know why, keep reading. We’ll discuss the effects of alcohol on sleep, as well as simple-yet-effective approaches you can use instead of drinking before bedtime.
How Alcohol Affects Sleep
The reason we’re often asked “Does alcohol makes you sleepy or help you sleep?” is in part due to the fact that 20% of Americans use alcohol to fall asleep at night. It makes sense if you’re having trouble sleeping since alcohol can make you feel sleepy.
The problem with this method is that even though it might help you drift off, what happens afterward would not be considered a sound night’s sleep.
First, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol may cause acute physiological changes including:
- Raising your body temperature
- Causing skin flushing.
- Dehydrating to the body
Neither of those things contributes to getting a restorative night's sleep!
Note: Dehydrating to the body can make you feel hot, lead to night sweats, and also wake you up because you're thirsty.
Read More: Why do I Seep Hot at Night
Less Restorative Sleep
This is the big one. While drinking alcohol before you turn in can cause the delta wave activity associated with deep sleep, it also can trigger alpha wave activity, which normally occurs while you’re resting quietly, not full-bore sleeping. These competing sleep patterns mean your mind and body will not receive the restorative night’s sleep they need to be at the peak of their powers.
Alcohol and REM Sleep
Alcohol reduces REM sleep and causes sleep disruptions. Many people who drink before bed often experience insomnia symptoms and may feel excessively sleepy the following day. Since alcohol inhibits REM sleep, this has an adverse effect on your memory functions, motor functions, and more.
Weakened Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
Determining HRV and your body temperature variations are important to understand. Alcohol consumption complicates sleep because it raises your heart rate and weakens your heart rate variability. And according to new research from the Cleveland Clinic, because alcohol can accelerate the heart rate, it could be a contributing factor for panic attacks in some individuals.
Circadian Rhythm Disruption
Falling asleep quickly after drinking alcohol comes with a price: there’s a strong possibility you’ll wake up in the middle of the night. Drinking alcohol produces adenosine, a chemical that signals it is time to go to sleep; however, that quick (and unnatural) fix of adenosine disappears soon after it arrives, increasing the likelihood that you’ll wake up sooner than you should.
Bathroom Breaks Frequently
Drinking before bed often leads to one or more trips to the bathroom in the night. Typically your body controls the urge to go to the bathroom while you sleep, but between the potential disrupt sleep we’ve already discussed and the simple fact that what goes in must come out, consuming alcohol in the evenings means you’re going to struggle to stay asleep one way or another.
Restricted Airflow and Snoring
While alcohol relaxes your mind, it has the same effect on your body. This includes your jaw and throat muscles, which at best can restrict airflow and lead to snoring, and at worst can induce mild sleep apnea.
So as you can see, there are significant drawbacks to drinking before bed.
Studies show that moderate or heavy consumption of alcohol can cause sleep apnea in people who do not have a sleep disorder.
Alcohol and Insomnia
Consuming alcohol has been proven to reduce REM sleep and can potentially cause insomnia symptoms and feel groggy the following day. This can interrupt your sleep cycle. People who have been diagnosed with alcohol disorders usually report insomnia symptoms.
Alcohol and Sleep, the Choice Is Yours
While alcohol and sleep don’t mix, it doesn’t mean you should stop having a drink altogether or glass of wine. You can take this information as far as you want; maybe you stop having a drink before bed on weekdays, or if you want to track alcohol’s effect more intensely there are products that track HRV and body temperature trends—then see how those measurements and others change on the nights you imbibe.
The most important takeaway from this post is a common refrain for those struggling to sleep: reflecting on your habits, and potentially changing some of them, might have a positive impact on improving your sleep quality.. Alcohol is simply one of those habits that might be hurting more than helping.