Sleep and Alcohol: That Nightcap Is Not a Sleeping Aid

Do you enjoy an occasional alcoholic drink in the evening, thinking it helps you unwind and sleep better? Think again.

While there is a common belief that alcohol helps you sleep better; it actually messes up your sleep in many sneaky ways.

Alcohol has been shown to increase drowsiness, making it easier to go to sleep; yet, the quality of the sleep is significantly decreased.

It decreases the amount of REM sleep

The worst, most talked-about, effect of alcohol consumption before bed is the fact that this substance halts your sleep cycles. As you already know, our sleep goes in cycles, each with  4-5 stages. The REM sleep stage is important for learning complex tasks.

REM sleep is particularly important if you have spent the day retaining a lot of new information, like studying for an exam, preparing for a big presentation, or starting a new job. Without proper REM sleep, the new information may not be properly stored for later use.

This stage’s duration is dramatically decreased by alcohol consumption. So, that oh-so-delicious glass of wine or tasty whiskey on the rocks right before bed make tomorrow’s ability to handle complex issues a little harder. I know, it upsets us too!

Less dreams

Humans dream most vividly during REM stages of their slumber. And as you may have already guessed, dreaming is halted by shorter REM stages and alcohol consumption.

“What’s the big deal?” you may ask, “I don’t need to dream when I sleep.” While researchers still haven’t uncovered all the reasons for dreaming, one theory suggests that dreaming helps cognitive abilities of the brain.

And hey, we want you to dream the impossible, and then go make it happen. So, let those wild thoughts pop in your head while you slumber.

Disturbed sleep

By messing with our natural sleep patterns, alcohol results in disturbed, fragmented sleep. While you may find it easier to fall asleep at first, once the effects of alcohol wear off, you’re more likely to wake up or toss and turn.

While all these effects may seem highly-scientific, there are a few more practical reasons you will relate to right away – like additional bathroom trips you need to wake up for, resulting in fragmented rest. Besides being a liquid itself, alcohol increases the production of urine.


Extra bathroom trips result in dehydration. Not only do you rob your body of much needed hydration, you’re halting your body’s ability to transport chemicals and nutrients.

Breathing problems

If you already snore or have sleep apnea, alcohol consumption before bed aggravates those symptoms further. If you have a sleeping partner (human, canine, feline or even reptilian), they will appreciate the break from your snoring, indeed.


Need we say more?

If you’re a woman, it gets worse

Women metabolize alcohol faster, so “beneficial” effects of alcohol consumption fly by, making women go into less restorative sleep much faster than men.

While an occasional drink before bed will not necessarily affect your sleep permanently, having too many drinks at night frequently will definitely show itself.

Hey, we’re not saying you shouldn’t drink (beer, wine and liquor make great personal rewards for things like, say, finishing your weekly blog post). We’re just saying that, as with most things in life, moderation is key. If you’re drinking alcohol to fall asleep, try switching your boozy beverage for an herbal tea and a book. You will get many more health benefits, and maybe learn something new.

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