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Why do so many believe alcohol is good for sleep? Alcohol is technically a depressant or “downer”, what this means is that it works by slowing down the central nervous system. At the beginning stages of drinking this can lead to feeling a release of tension and stress, while also increasing sleep drive.
This is why many consider a simple night cap before bed a great way to induce sleep. While a single drink may be alright for these purposes, much more than that and other affects of alcohol will begin to kick in and ruin your sleep quality, while also making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
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It’s true. Alcohol can damper the quality of your sleep. Making it harder to stay asleep comfortably all night long. Below are several ways alcohol, especially in excess, can ruin your sleep.
When you have had too much to drink it becomes very difficult for your body to regulate its internal temperature. You may find yourself shivering and sweating simultaneously. Or sweating and hot even when walking in very cold winter weather. Even though you feel hot and you may be sweating with a flushed face, your internal body temperature is actually lower than usual. Which can become very dangerous, especially if you’re spending time in very cold winter weather.
Normally in order to keep your body functioning properly, your internal body temperature should stay around 97.7–99.5 °F. This becomes rather difficult when you drink. Your blood vessels dilate and moving blood away from your internal organs and cooling off faster when closer to the surface of your skin.
This is what leads to feverish sweating and shivering throughout the night. Your body is struggling with trying to regulate your internal temperature. This alone can lead to sleepless nights after drinking.
While a drink or two can potentially induce sleep and minimally affect your sleeping habits, once you being to exceed this limit it can begin to take a toll on your sleep.
When you have had a few drinks too many, you are far less likely to make it through a full REM cycle of sleep.
Instead, you remain in the lighter phases of sleep throughout the night. Which means you will not wake up feeling well rested, even if you get more sleep than usual.
Your body maintains and sets your circadian rhythm clock by keeping track of external stimulus. Your daily routine, habits, the sunset and sunrise all effect your circadian rhythm which regulates your natural sleep and wake patterns.
Whenever you have a few too many drinks, this can completely throw off your circadian rhythm. Not only can this disrupt your nights sleep on the night you drink, but it can continue to throw off your sleeping schedule for several days’ afterword.
Learn more about circadian typologies in our post: Chronotypes: Your Circadian Typology
Alcohol is a diuretic, which just means that it increases frequency of urination. (Which by the way is yet another reason why it is important to stay hydrated.)
This means frequent bathroom breaks throughout the night. Let alone if you are feel nauseated, or have diarrhea. This can lead to all kinds of unpleasant bathroom breaks that will make it difficult to sleep.
This can lead to needing to get up to use the restroom several times when you may never get out of bed to use the restroom normally. This adds a lot of disruptions to your night’s sleep.
The dreaded spins! You’ve had a fun night of drinking and you lay down to go to sleep and the spins set in. The room seems to be moving all around you.
Every time you close your eyes you feel as if you are on a tilt-a-whirl. This is a classic sign that you have absolutely had too much to drink and it is going to be very difficult to get to sleep for a while.
Unfortunately, depression, insomnia, and alcohol have a bad habit of sticking together. They can all impact and increase the symptoms of the other, which can turn into a downward spiral that escalates quickly. Depression and anxiety are often main causes for bouts of insomnia. While lack of sleep can intensify depression.
Drinking alcohol is a depressant and can ruin you sleep. However, many turn to drinking when depressed. Again, it can be a very vicious cycle and we highly recommend reaching out to a therapist, or medical professional if this sounds familiar to you. Skip to the bottom of the page for hotlines to get help now.
You may also be interested in: How to Sleep Better with Depression
For many, the occasional alcoholic beverage in the evenings is an enjoyable treat. So, is all alcohol truly terrible for you and your sleeping habits? The answer is that for most people a singular night cap won’t make a noticeable difference in their sleep quality. However, as little as two to three drinks you may begin to notice your sleep begin to suffer. We are going to go into what it is about alcohol that has the potential to ruin you sleep as well as ways to avoid it.
This is going to be our number one recommendation. The truth is no mattress how much you eat beforehand or drink water afterword, if you over indulge in alcohol, you are not going to be able to sleep well.
Which is why, if you are wanting to enjoy a cocktail or alcoholic beverage, we suggest that you limit how much you drink. Alcohol affects people differently so your limit may be different than others.
However, we suggest a one to two drink maximum if you are wanting to get a great night’s sleep. As little as three drinks can really begin to take a negative toll on your sleep, even if you do not feel like the affects of alcohol are really kicking in yet.
When you are choosing to drink alcohol before heading off to sleep, take a second to consider how much water you have had throughout the day. One of the ways in which alcohol negatively affects sleep is due to its dehydrating nature.
Which means you may want to top up on water before you start drinking alcohol. Remember, that no matter how much water you drink after binge drinking, you still won’t have a great night’s sleep.
Learn more about staying hydrated and its benefits for sleep in our post: Sleep & Hydration
When you are wanting to have a few drinks and avoid over indulging or getting drunk, eating beforehand is a must. When you have an empty stomach, alcohol gets into your blood stream much faster than usual. This intensifies your inebriation by quite a bit.
Which is why we recommend having your first drink after you have at least a bit of food in your stomach. This way your digestion of the alcohol is slower. This will help avoid accidental tipsiness.
Day drinking may seem like a great hall pass when it comes to how it could affect your sleep. However, day drinking can easily sneak up on you. Long weekend days can start as early as a mimosa with brunch, a beer or two with lunch, a glass of wine with dinner, and a night after dinner drink.
While there is plenty of time throughout the day, these drinks can add up very fast. This can lead to unplanned lengthy naps, or just accidental over drinking.
It is easy to accidentally over drink when you start drinking early and continue to drink throughout the day. Which is why we warn that you be warry of day drinking, it can sneak up on you.
Like many things in life it might be easier said than done. But, there are several ways to help ease you into a new routine. If you are use to having a night cap before bed there are a few alternative ways to find similar relaxation.
When it comes to sleep benefits, there are so many more benefits to drinking tea than alcohol. If you’re looking to have an enjoyable drink that helps to induce sleep, we highly recommend tea! Of course, you should avoid black and green tea as they contain caffeine.
However, there are many varieties of tea specifically formulated to help you get deep and restful sleep. From sleepy time tea, chamomile tea, peppermint tea, to more intense valerian teas there is a little something for everyone out there.
Learn more about different kinds of teas for sleep in our post: Best Tea For Sleep – Top 8 Bedtime Teas
Sometimes the relaxing aspect of a nightly drink has much more to do with the ritual than the drink itself. Which is where a non-alcoholic cocktail can really go a long way. Fix yourself a drink with botanicals and fancy tonic water, or whatever you prefer.
You can even find non-alcoholic wine and beer. Whatever it is, make sure it feels just as special and like a treat as your alcoholic beverages taste and feel. For many, this is a great way to have that ritual of an after-dinner drink, without the alcohol. Win win!
Get our favorite alcohol-free night cap recipes in our post: Alcohol Free Nightcap Recipes
Cannabidiol products are becoming more and more popular these days. They have incredible health benefits as well as relieving stress, anxiety, and encouraging healthy sleeping habits. All without the psychoactive properties of THC.
CBD comes in many different forms; some are topical and come in solves or lotions. While others are edible, like candies or tinctures. Find whatever suites you and your needs and stick with it. It can be a great way to relax and get to sleep naturally.
Learn more about CBD & Sleep in our post: CBD Oil Guide: Finding Better Sleep with CBD
With so many alternative ways to relax and get to sleep in the evenings, and so many ways alcohol can ruin a good night’s sleep. There is really no need to rely on an alcoholic night cap in order to get to sleep. Excessive binge drinking is a sure-fire way to ruin your sleep for days to come. Which is why we suggest if you are hoping to get any semblance of a good night’s rest, to take it easy on the alcohol.
We know for many, alcohol is more than a casual drink that you can simply choose to enjoy passively, or cut out easily. Addiction is a very serious issue that must be taken seriously. If you or someone you love is having a hard time, we highly recommend reaching out for help from professionals.
Alcohol/Drug Abuse and Addiction
Mental Health Disorders
Mental Health America
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline