How Drinking Actually Impacts Your Sleep

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When it comes to getting a good night’s rest, certain factors may affect the quality of your sleep — and alcohol is one of them. Even though it initially may make you more tired, it can also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night or every few hours. Various studies have found that there is a correlation between alcohol and sleep.

Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert and the director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program, agrees. “Although alcohol may help you fall asleep, it will actually disrupt deep sleep and wake you earlier than you want,” Dr. Kansagra tells Bustle. “It affects the overall quality of sleep — in otherwise healthy adults, the feeling of sleepiness initially caused by alcohol is followed by withdrawal later in the night.” As a result, you may wake up often and not sleep as well during the second half of the night, causing you to be less rested by morning, he says.

Even one drink can cause sleeplessness or poor sleep quality. And, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, for women, moderate drinking is one drink per day, with high-risk drinking defined as four or more drinks per day or eight or more drinks per week.

“An immediate benefit of not drinking might be feeling more rested and getting better sleep at night,” Dr. Jennifer Caudle, family physician and associate professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Bustle. “In addition, not drinking might be a good opportunity to reevaluate drinking habits altogether.” When you don’t drink alcohol for a month, sleep improves by 10 percent, according to Positive Health Wellness. In addition, they state that your wakefulness the next morning improves by 9.5 percent.

How Alcohol Affects REM Sleep And Brain Chemistry

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Alcohol also affects your rapid eye movement — REM sleep, which occurs 90 minutes after you fall asleep, according to the Cleveland Clinic. While you sleep, you go back and forth between non-REM and REM sleep. While the first period of REM is 10 minutes, each one gets longer, with the last one being an hour. In addition to eye movement, REM sleep is also characterized by muscle relaxation, faster respiration, and increased brain activity — and REM sleep is also when vivid dreams occur.

“Although alcohol might help you to fall asleep, it has also been shown that after drinking two alcoholic drinks close to bedtime, you are likely to spend less time in REM sleep,” Dr. Roy Raymann, vice president of sleep science and scientific affairs at SleepScore Labs, tells Bustle. “This will cause you to experience more frequent awakenings in the second half of the night, impacting the overall quality of your sleep.”

Jason Priest, registered nurse, and health coach, LLC, tells Bustle that the more alcohol a person consumes prior to sleep, the less REM sleep they will get. “This, in turn, will lead to more daytime drowsiness and poor concentration,” he says.

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Alcohol consumption can also affect your brain chemistry and induce sleep disorders, Dr. Mark Burhenne, a sleep medicine dentist and bestselling author of The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox, tells Bustle. “Alcohol-induced sleep also causes your brain to produce alpha waves, and alpha activity isn’t even associated with sleep,” he says. This can inhibit deep sleep and prevent your body from benefiting from the restoration that’s supposed to happen when you sleep, Dr. Burhenne says. “Essentially, alcohol alters your sleeping brain chemistry in such a way that stops you from entering that deep sleep your body craves and needs.”

Dr. Adam Lipson, a neurosurgeon at IGEA Brain & Spine, agrees. “The effects of alcohol are more significant than some realize — it impacts brain function and neurochemistry,” he tells Bustle. And, after a bad night of alcohol-induced sleep, a hangover is common the next morning.

Alcohol Before Bed Also Affects Your Breathing And Bladder

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Alcohol also impacts your sleep by affecting your breathing, Priest says. “Alcohol can suppress a person’s breathing, which can lead to issues with periods of sleep apnea,” he says. “This is when there are pauses in a person’s breathing, so the oxygen supply to the brain can be slowed.” Hence, a person can expect to feel groggy and potentially have memory issues if alcohol is relied upon long-term, he says.

Another reason you may not sleep well after drinking is due to the fact that you may need to use the bathroom more frequently. “Too much fluid in your bladder triggers nocturnal awakening to visit the bathroom,” Dr. Raymann says. “Be modest on the intake and make sure to use the bathroom prior to sleep.”

Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle that if you drink the night away, you won’t sleep the night away. “In addition to waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom from alcohol, alcohol can also make you dehydrated, so you might feel the effects of this and wake up from the unpleasantness,” he says. But, drinking water will also result in frequent bathroom use instead of spending the time sleeping, he says.

Alcohol + Lack Of Sleep = Less Energy The Next Day

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Aside from affecting your REM sleep, alcohol can also impact your sleep in other ways, including your energy levels. “As the calming effects of the alcohol begins to wear off after a few hours into your sleep, the tendency is for your body to wake up, and toss and turn,” Bill Fish, Certified Sleep Science Coach and co-founder of Tuck.com, tells Bustle. “Thus, this will greatly diminish the quality of your sleep.” Furthermore, after drinking alcohol and not sleeping well, you’ll be less energetic and excited the next day, Dr. Raymann says. “At first, it makes you sleepy and more sedated, but when that wears off, it will trigger waking up,” he says.

Is Any Amount Of Alcohol Before Bed OK?

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If you want the quality of your sleep to improve, you may wonder if any amount of alcohol is OK. “While a nightly glass of wine before bed might help you fall asleep faster, drinking a couple or more might not be best for your entire night’s sleep,” Dr. Raymann says. “Keep it to either one glass during dinner or one glass after dinner.”

All in all, if you want to test the correlation between alcohol and sleep for yourself, you can always stop drinking alcohol for a while and see if you sleep better as a result. Of course, every person is different, but you won’t know until you try for yourself and see if your sleep quality improves.