Debunking Sleep Myths: Does Alcohol Help or Hurt Your Sleep?

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


You may look forward to your nightcap, but a bedtime drink could backfire. Discover the link between alcohol and sleep disruptions.

Whether with a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, or whiskey on the rocks, many adults often wind down after a busy day with an alcoholic beverage. It may feel like it’s relaxing you, but is that drink actually helping you sleep better at night? Not exactly. Alcohol’s effect on the body is more complicated than you might think.

It knocks you out…
It’s true that alcohol is a depressant and has a sedative effect on your body, so indulging in an evening nightcap may raise your level of drowsiness and help you fall asleep faster. Alcohol may also affect the production of the chemical adenosine, which helps induce sleepiness. In fact, some research suggests that a drink before bed can even lead to an increase in deep, slow wave sleep in the first half of the night.

…then wakes you up.
However, that initial drift into dreamland does not last. Once the adenosine boost from alcohol wears off, you’re likely to wake up before you’ve gotten a full night of rest. This post-drinking sleep disruption interrupts the restorative REM phase of sleep. Since REM sleep is responsible for boosting memory, concentration, and learning, a night with poor REM sleep can lead to problems focusing at work the next day.

It forces you out of bed.
On a practical level, the more you drink of any liquid before going to sleep, the more likely it is that you’ll have to wake up to use the bathroom at 3 A.M. Plus, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases the amount of water expelled from the body. Although the best solution is simply not drinking before bed, if you are having a nightcap, consider a smaller-volume option, like a glass of port, over a 16-ounce beer.

Here’s the good news: You can enjoy an evening drink and probably still get a good night’s sleep. It’s when you have several nightcaps that your dreams and REM sleep will be interrupted. Like most things in life, moderation is key.