Alcohol’s Effect on Sleep

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


It turns out that a nightcap before bed may not be a smart way to nod off after all.

When it comes to sleep, if you booze, you lose. Alcohol can interfere with your slumber in a number of ways. But that doesn’t mean that you have to put down the wine glass for good. Below, learn some surprising facts about the consequences of mixing sleep with alcohol, and find out how you can enjoy a cocktail and get adequate shuteye.

Fact 1: Alcohol May Help You Fall Asleep Faster.

Okay, it’s true that a few drinks before you hit the sheets can send you to dreamland in a wink. That’s because alcohol has a sedative effect on the body, making you drowsy (and giving you that “I need my bed now” urge in the middle of happy hour). However, keep reading, because booze messes with your body later on in the night.

Fact 2: But That Sleep May Not Be Restful.

Drinking actually increases deep sleep during the first part of the night. Sounds good, right? Not so fast. During the second half of the night, this sleepy effect wears off and you’ll be more likely to wake up or toss and turn, reducing your overall time spent asleep. In addition, REM sleep (the absolute deepest stage of sleep, during which you dream) is negatively affected by booze. This is the stage of sleep that helps boost memory, concentration, and learning, so paying attention at work may feel a tad challenging after a night of one too many margaritas—and that headache won’t help either!

Fact 3: Women Are More Likely to Be Affected.

After a night of imbibing, women get less sleep than men who are equally drunk. This could be because women metabolize alcohol faster, meaning that they reach the second (and less restorative) stage of sleep before men do.

Fact 4: Moderation Is Key.

Sticking to one or two drinks can allow you to achieve that initial deep sleep without impacting your REM sleep. That’s not a reason to start using a nightly nightcap as a sleeping aid, but if you are going out for happy hour, remember that cutting yourself off from the free flowing Chardonnay after one or two glasses will help ensure that you wake up well-rested tomorrow.