Alcohol goes well with a lot of different mixers. Unfortunately, alcohol does not mix with sleep. A common misconception is that alcohol makes a great nightcap. A little something to help you fall asleep at night. While in very small doses that might be true, for the most part alcohol really lowers your overall quality of sleep. Stick around to learn why it is often believed that alcohol helps you sleep, as well as all the many reasons why alcohol and sleep don’t mix.
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Why Do People Believe Alcohol Helps Them Sleep?
There are many reasons why it is commonly believed that alcohol helps you sleep. When you have a small amount of alcohol, it often does a great job at relieving stress. There can be a wave of calm as it lower inhibitions and calms nerves and stress after a long day. By lowering stress and anxiety, and with the natural calming affects of alcohol can indeed help you to get to sleep.
However, this can easily go downhill fast if your are not careful. Even as little as two drinks can tip you over from a little help falling asleep to lowering your sleep quality. Especially as your inhibitions lower your ability to regulate and properly analyze your level of intoxication.
How Does Alcohol Ruin Sleep Quality?
For many, the real question is how does alcohol ruin your sleep? This is a multifaceted answer which we will divide into sections below. A lot of the times when we wake up for only a few seconds to shift, roll over, or what have you we do not remember it. Also we believe that a deep sleep = good quality sleep when that is not always the case. Keep reading to get all the details on what actually happens when you drink and head off to sleep and why you could be lowering your sleep quality without even realizing it.
Alcohol Blocks REM Sleep
Even though alcohol may feel like it is giving you deep and restful sleep. It is not. One drink too many and the alcohol could actually keep you from getting a full REM cycle.
REM cycles are required in order to get all of the rest and recovery that our minds and bodies need in order to get truly great rest. To wake up feeling refreshed and recharged, REM sleep is required.
After drinking alcohol you typically remain in the lighter phases of sleep. Which is not when your body does a lot of work for our minds, immune system, even recovery from workouts and more. Which is why getting a full cycle of REM sleep is so vital.
Poor Temperature Regulation:
When you first think of sleep disruptions with alcohol you may think of nausea or “the spins”. We will touch on those later in the article. However, even a smaller amount of alcohol can cause something else that can be just as disruptive to your sleep. This is a lack of temperature regulation.
Alcohol makes it very difficult for your body to regulate your internal body temperature. This can make it very difficult and uncomfortable to get to sleep. This often feels like you have a fever, you are shivering and sweating. Or you continuously go back and forth between feeling freezing cold to burning hot as your body desperately tries to find a balance.
Regularly your body tries to keep your internal temperature around 97.7 – 99.5 °F. Alcohol causes your blood vessels to dilate and move blood toward the surface of your skin causing you to flush and for your skin to feel warm. This is in an attempt to cool off your internal organs. However, it causes a sensation of having a fever. Which can make it incredibly difficult to sleep when you are sweating and shivering the night away.
Alcohol Disrupts Your Circadian Rhythm
Your circadian rhythm is your internal clock. Typically, your internal clock takes signals and cues in order to regulate your natural urges to eat, sleep, be active and so on. Even the sun plays a part in keeping your circadian rhythm regulated.
When you drink alcohol it can actually throw off your circadian rhythm. This not only could throw off your sleep the night your go out drinking.
It can also throw off your sleep schedule for several days until you get back into your usual routine. Which is yet another reason to stay on a consistent sleep schedule and skip drinking alcohol. Or if you do choose to drink alcohol, to limit it to only one or two drinks. Especially before bed.
Learn more about circadian typologies in our post: Chronotypes: Your Circadian Typology
Frequent Bathroom Trips
As you may already know, alcohol is a natural diuretic. Which simply means that is makes you use the restroom very often. This can also cause you to quickly become dehydrated. The frequent need to use the restroom may even cause your to have to get up and use the restroom many times throughout the night. Which makes it hard to get a good night of rest.
This gets even worse the more you have had to drink and can lead to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Even when you are not actively vomiting, the feeling of being nauseous is extremely uncomfortable and makes it incredibly difficult to fall asleep.
When you get to this point of drinking, your night is pretty much ruined. Making sure your limit the amount of alcohol you drink, only drink with food in your system, and getting plenty of water will help prevent this from happening.
Dizziness & Spinning Sensation
Alcohol can be disorienting in general. However, if you have had one too many you may experience some dizziness. We like to refer to this as “the spins”. Where it feels as if the world around you is turning or spinning while you are remaining still.
This sensation of dizziness can increase whenever you close your eyes. Making it rather disorienting to try and fall asleep. Especially when it feels like you are laying on a tilt-a-whirl every time you rest your eyes. Mix this in with nausea and you are going to find it very difficult to get to sleep.
Something that will help is water. Typically it is dehydration that causes you to feel dizzy. Drinking plenty of water or rehydrating drinking with vitamins and minerals will help to rehydrate you. This will helps to make the spins stop sooner rather than later. However, the real trick unfortunately is simply getting the alcohol out of your system and getting back to being sober.
In general, getting drunk is not good for your health and wellbeing. When intoxicated you often make questionable decisions. You stay out late, and even pass out in strange locations. You may find yourself waking up on the floor, couch, or many other questionable places that you would never choose with a sound mind.
When this happens you often wake up with all sorts of aches and pains from sleeping in uncomfortable positions on uncomfortable surfaces.
Combine all of this with all the other symptoms that come along with becoming intoxicated and you can guarantee that you will not get a good night of sleep.
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How To Enjoy Alcoholic Beverages & Sleep Well:
If you don’t want to cut out alcohol entirely, there are ways to enjoy it without ruining your sleep. While any amount of alcohol has the potential to lower your sleep quality, the quantity absolutely makes a big difference. Keep reading for our tips on how you can enjoy a nightcap or a drink with dinner without ruining your sleep entirely.
Limit How Much You Drink
This is the number one recommendation for insuring that you are not going to ruin your night. Drink less. Seriously, limit yourself to one or two drinks tops for the entire evening. You can still enjoy a nice drink without it turning into a full night of drinking.
It really does take that commitment because after you have had that one or two drinks the inhibitions leaving you makes it much easier to say yes to more. So be strict with yourself and have a go to nonalcoholic drink that you can switch to once you are done drinking for the night. That way you can continue enjoying your evening without going wild. This way you can go on to sleep well and feel great in the morning.
This being said, if you really have trouble stopping yourself once you have started. It may be better to avoid it all together or only drink in a place where you are literally limited. You also may find that it is worth reaching out for help to determine why you have such trouble stopping yourself once you have started.
If you do choose to drink, hydrate hydrate hydrate! Staying hydrated will help to prevent a lot of the negative effects of alcohol, and help you to sleep well and wake up with less of a hangover.
The more you stay topped up on water, the less likely you will experience dizziness and nausea. It can also help with retaining internal body temperature, and prevent hangovers.
While drinking less is tip number one, staying hydrated comes in shortly after.
Learn more about staying hydrated and its benefits for sleep in our post: Sleep & Hydration
Avoid Day Drinking
An easy way to accidentally get yourself very drunk is by day drinking. Even if you are taking it slow and only eating a little bit at a time, it can slowly creep up on you. This is because day drinking often provides a much longer time in which you are drinking. Which means it is much easier to drink far more than you usually would if you had only started drinking in the evening.
This can lead to accidentally finding yourself intoxicated midday. Or perhaps far more drunk than you had ever intended. Which can lead to sleeping during the middle of the day, or generally feeling awful and having a hard time getting to sleep in the evening. Be extremely careful if you decide to drink during the day as you may not realize how easily those drinks can add up.
Get our favorite alcohol-free night cap recipes in our post: Alcohol Free Nightcap Recipes
Eat Before, During, and After You Drink
One way you can easily accidentally become intoxicated is if you have not eaten enough food before you begin to drink. It is never a good idea to drink on an empty stomach.
Instead, make sure you are getting enough to eat before, during, and after you drink alcohol. This will help prevent you from accidentally becoming intoxicated very quickly and instead allows your body to ingest the alcohol at a slower rate. Allowing you to gauge how much you have had to drink instead of it all hitting your system at once.
We recommend that you try to avoid very rich foods that are heavy in fat and dairy products. Instead stick to foods that have lots of carbs and protein instead.
Why Alcohol & Sleep Don’t Mix – Final Thoughts:
At the end of the day one or two alcoholic drinks will very minimally impact your sleep. In fact, you probably will not even notice a difference in how rested you feel the next day. However, the more you drink the lower your sleep quality will be. In fact, once you become intoxicated the less likely it is that you will be able to get a good night of rest at all. We recommend either not drinking alcohol, or only doing it in very small doses. Also, only drinking when you have had enough to eat and always stay hydrated. We hope these tips help you to not let alcohol ruin your night of sleep.
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