How does alcohol affect my sleep?

Craig L. Schwimmer, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)
Many people mistakenly believe that alcohol can help them sleep better. The truth is that alcohol near bedtime tends to result in poorer sleep quality. By disrupting sleep architecture, alcohol tends to disrupt sleep patterns and result in poorer sleep quality.
Alon Avidan, MD
Having an alcoholic drink before bed won't help you sleep better and is never a good idea for insomnia for the following reasons:
  • Alcohol has a short half-life, meaning that it puts people to sleep, but then they wake up, and they wake up frequently.
  • There is an issue of dependence, meaning that once a person starts it, it's hard to come off of it.
  • There is an issue of tolerance. One night people can do well with one shot of whiskey, the next night they need two. Then they need more and more to have the same effect.
  • Alcohol destroys a person's sleep architecture. It essentially disrupts the normal architecture, or sleep physiology. 
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
When you're looking for ways to get to sleep, a little wine before bed sounds like a great idea, but for most of us, it backfires. While alcohol is sedating at first, which helps with falling asleep, later in the night it tends to do an 180 and wake you up; in extreme cases, 20 times! Instead of feeling energized and refreshed the next morning, you're bleary-eyed and tired. Alcohol also seems to mess up your most restorative sleep.

Timing counts. For most people, allowing an hour or two between a drink and bedtime avoids problems. Unlucky ones need a six-hour gap.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Drinking a glass of wine or other alcohol, will disrupt sleep. Learn more about this in this video with Dr. Oz.
Dawn Marcus
Some people like having a cocktail before bed because the alcohol makes them feel drowsy. Although you may feel sleepy after drinking, alcohol often prevents your brain from entering the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep.
Fit As Fido: Follow Your Dog to Better Health

More About this Book

Fit As Fido: Follow Your Dog to Better Health

Let your dog teach you to live a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life! Companionship with your pet can be used as a means and a motivator to increase your own physical and mental fitness....
Julia Schlam Edelman
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Alcohol disturbs the quality of one's sleep. Although it may be easy to fall asleep after having a drink or two, the deepest, most restful part of sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, is compromised. Decreasing the amount of alcohol consumed improves the quality of sleep.
Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Be cautious about alcohol intake in the evening hours. If you use a glass of wine as a way to unwind after the kids have gone to bed, which is how many moms decompress at the end of the day, be mindful of how that glass (or two) could be influencing the quality of your sleep. You might want to test out avoiding this routine and see if it changes how refreshed you feel the next day.
Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged

More About this Book

Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged

       From celebrated dietitian Ashley Koff and fitness trainer to the stars Kathy Kaehler comes Mom Energy, an exciting new way for moms to tap into their own natural and renewable sources of...
Generally, if you must drink alcohol, you should do it earlier in the day to prevent its effects on sleep. Additionally, small amounts of alcohol (one drink or less) can help to decrease the effect alcohol has on sleep. High quantity of alcohol affects the quality of your sleep; the more you drink the more it will make your sleep fragmented with frequent awakenings. Some common side effects during alcohol-induced sleep include nightmares, headaches, snoring and frequent awakenings. Ultimately if you don't want alcohol to change your sleep patterns, then don't drink it.
Alcohol can interfere with our deeper levels of sleep, so it's best not to rely on it to fall and stay asleep. In this video, Nina Radcliff, MD, explains how alcohol impacts our sleep, and how valerian root tea can be a great alternative.
Do you have a drink or two in the evening as a way to relax and help you to fall asleep? If so, you’ve got plenty of company. Alcohol is among the most common “sleep aids” that people employ to help them drift off at night. We know that alcohol doesn’t solve problems for sleep: it creates them. And a new study suggests yet another reason that alcohol can be a roadblock to good sleep: the stimulating effects of alcohol are felt more strongly in the early evening hours. That evening drink you think is sending you toward slumber? It’s likely doing just the opposite.

The effects of alcohol in the body are what are known as biphasic, meaning “in two phases.” When first consumed, alcohol has a stimulating effect. Later, after alcohol has been in the system for a period time, its effects are sedating. But as this new research indicates, the effects of alcohol -- particularly the stimulating effects -- are magnified during certain periods of the body’s 24-hour circadian cycle.

Many people are drawn to alcohol for both its stimulating effects and its sedating ones. Often people drink in the evenings to help them unwind and fall asleep at night. It may feel as though a drink or two in the evening can help to relax and pave the way for a good night’s sleep. But it’s actually not the case. Alcohol consumption, in excess or too close to bedtime, diminishes the quality of sleep, often leads to more waking throughout the night, and lessens time spent in REM sleep and slow wave sleep in the later part of the night, the deepest and most restorative phase of sleep.

Continue Learning about Sleep Basics

Tell Me Why…I Dream
Tell Me Why…I Dream
You’re in class and the teacher announces a surprise test. You haven’t studied, done homework or even been to class for weeks—and you may or may not b...
Read More
What can disrupt sleep in children?
Dr. Michael Roizen, MDDr. Michael Roizen, MD
Dad yelling when his Giants win isn't the only thing that can startle your child out of a sleep....
More Answers
What can I do if my bed partner is a night owl, but I am an early bird?
Dr. Michael Breus, PhDDr. Michael Breus, PhD
If you and your bed partner have different sleep schedules, the early bird can wear eyeshades and ea...
More Answers
How Can I Improve My Teen's Sleep Habits?
How Can I Improve My Teen's Sleep Habits?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.