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Updated on July 31, 2023
8 min read

Alcohol and Sleep

Connection Between Alcohol and Sleep

Although alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it can negatively impact the overall quality of your sleep. Alcohol affects sleep architecture, and drinking before bed may cause sleep disruption.

Alcohol can influence sleep quality and increases the likelihood of developing sleeping problems. Excessive alcohol consumption may be a sign of various sleep disorders, including:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Insomnia
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

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What is a Normal Sleep Cycle

A normal sleep architecture or sleep cycle involves three stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and one stage of rapid eye movement (REM). These four sleep stages follow one another in 90 to 120-minute cycles. An eight-hour sleep period contains four to five stages.

NREM and REM sleep are responsible for sleep homeostasis, a regulated balance between sleeping and waking.

NREM Sleep

NREM sleep is the first three stages of your sleep cycle and makes up 75% of typical sleep activity. During NREM sleep, you’ll experience the following:

  • Relaxing muscles
  • Drop in heart rate
  • Slower brain activity
  • Little eye movement

The most important stage within NREM sleep is stage three, also known as slow-wave sleep. This stage is where you experience the most restorative sleep. It’s also linked to creativity, insightful thinking, and memory.

REM Sleep

REM sleep induces increased eye movement and heart rate and is crucial for memory consolidation. REM sleep represents the last 25% of your sleep cycle, lasting 5 to 30 minutes. This is also the stage where dreaming occurs.

Young people typically experience the most REM sleep, with its average duration decreasing with age.

How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep

Alcohol can disrupt the sleep homeostasis stages and decreases sleep latency. Although alcohol can make you fall asleep faster, it can disturb the initial light sleep from stage one of NREM.9 This causes you to fall into a deep sleep longer than usual.

It can also reduce the amount and quality of REM sleep you experience throughout the night. This leads to poorer sleep quality.

Studies on Alcohol and Sleep

Multiple studies have found alcohol consumed 60 minutes before falling asleep decreases body temperature. While sleeping, your body temperature then rebounds, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night.4

In one study, people who consume alcohol before bed had up to three times higher incidences of periodic leg movements at night (restless leg). This also causes them to wake up.1

How Does Alcohol Affect Melatonin

Alcohol can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep anticipation, disrupting the circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle).

Even a single drink of alcohol before bed can decrease melatonin levels and disrupt the sleep-wake cycle, leading to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. According to one 2007 study, one drink of alcohol before bed decreases melatonin between 15% and 19%.5


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How Disrupted Sleep Affects the Body

Alcohol can significantly impact major depression and its relation to healthy sleep patterns. There’s likely a vicious cycle involving insomnia, leading to more drinking and worsening sleep quality.

With decreasing sleep quality and lack of sleep, other health issues can arise, such as:

  • Depression or major depression
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain or obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Increased risk of injury

Insomnia and other sleep disturbances are commonly observed in individuals with depression, and alcohol use can exacerbate these symptoms.

People with insomnia have a higher risk of developing depression, while 75% of people with depression have trouble falling or staying asleep.8


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How Much Is Too Much Alcohol Before Bed

Even with light drinking, consuming alcohol before bed can decrease sleep onset latency. This can lead to sleep deprivation and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Studies show that even moderate alcohol consumption can lead to reduced REM sleep.6 Aside from sleep disruptions, consuming alcohol before bed can also affect your body in other ways.

A 2018 study found that less than two servings of alcohol for men and just one for women reduced sleep quality by an average of 9.3%.3 Another study found that the risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) increased in normal sleepers after just a single drink of alcohol.6

Can Heavy Alcohol Use Lead to a Sleep Disorder?

Alcohol’s effects on sleep grow with more alcohol. For example, heavy drinkers are likelier to report poor sleep than light drinkers.

A 2013 study found an association between frequent binge drinking and insomnia.2 Those who binge drink more than two days a week have an 84% higher chance of developing insomnia than regular drinkers.2

You are also more likely to experience sleep issues if you drink heavily. According to a 2013 study, women are 13% more likely to experience sleeping problems after heavy alcohol use. On the other hand, men are 10% more likely to experience similar issues after heavy alcohol use.4

Alcohol-Related Sleep Disorders

Alcohol can cause insomnia since it affects REM sleep. It can also interfere with melatonin production, affecting sleep anticipation in the brain.

Alcohol can exacerbate several sleep disorders, including sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep, leading to symptoms such as snoring. 

Symptoms of sleep apnea can include: 

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring
  • Frequent awakenings during the night.

Alcohol and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

One of the most common sleep-related conditions is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It’s a condition where throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep. Snoring is a notable symptom of OSA.

OSA is most commonly associated with heavy drinkers, but normal sleepers can develop it even after one drink. This is why the risk of developing OSA increases with the amount of alcohol in the body.7

An alcohol-induced OSA can be dangerous and has the following risk factors:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Death

Women who drink excessively more than twice a week have an 8% higher chance of developing OSA. For men who regularly binge drink, the possibility of experiencing OSA increases by 10%.7

8 Tips for Sleeping Better After Drinking Alcohol

Consuming alcohol before bed can make you feel less refreshed and reinvigorated after sleeping. The effects of alcohol on your body can also increase the likelihood of waking up during the second half of the night.

You can develop habits to reduce alcohol’s effects on your sleeping cycle.

Here are eight tips for better sleep after drinking alcohol:

1. Use the Bathroom Before Bed

Alcohol is a diuretic, making you produce more urine than usual. Be sure to use the bathroom before bed so your bladder does not wake you in deep sleep.

2. Avoid Caffeine

Unlike alcohol, drinking caffeine will make it more difficult to fall asleep. After the late afternoon, refrain from having any kind of caffeinated drinks, especially if you plan to drink alcohol later.

3. Allow Your Body Time to Process the Alcohol

Although different people will have varying levels of alcohol tolerance, drink no more than two standard drinks per hour to avoid becoming too intoxicated.

4. Stick to Your Normal Sleep Schedule

Keep a consistent sleep schedule. It’s easier to fall asleep if you do so at the same time each night regularly.

5. Don’t Drink Carbonated Beverages

Carbonated drinks are absorbed by your body easier, which makes you drunk faster. This makes you experience difficulty sleeping.

6. Control Your Drinking

Generally, you may only have one drink per hour, and it’s best to stop drinking four hours before bedtime. You should also know your alcohol threshold. Knowing how much alcohol you can take can help you avoid having sleep problems after drinking.

7. Properly Schedule When to Drink

Consider scheduling your happy hour earlier than usual. This helps you stop drinking earlier and sober up before falling asleep.

8. Don’t Drink Alcohol with Other Drugs

Drinking alcohol with depressants or sleep medicine can increase the potency of both substances. This can lead to extreme drowsiness and other potentially dangerous side effects such as:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Heartburn
  • Risk of ulcers
  • Sleepiness
  • Passing out or blackouts
  • Liver damage
  • Reduced blood-clotting ability
  • Memory lapses
  • Poor judgment
  • Slow reflexes, which can lead to harmful accidents
  • Distorted vision

Is Drinking to Fall Asleep a Sign of an Alcohol Problem? 

Disturbed sleep is a known alcohol withdrawal symptom. If you’re drinking alcohol to fall asleep, you may have a drinking problem. People with alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are likelier to experience sleep disturbances.

One review of patients across six studies reported rates of insomnia ranging from 25% to 72% among alcoholics.6

If you’re using alcohol to fall asleep, you might want to see a sleep doctor. They may be able to provide alternatives to help you sleep. However, you should seek an addiction specialist if your alcohol use affects your sleep.

Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Treatment

If you’re having problems with sleep due to alcohol abuse, seek professional help immediately. If you have an AUD and a mental health problem, seeking help for both conditions is essential.

However, it’s important to understand that people react to treatment differently. Talk to an addiction specialist to find the right treatment option for you.

Treatment options for alcohol addiction include:


Drinking alcohol can affect the quality of your sleep architecture, which can cause conditions such as insomnia or OSA. Although some people find that alcohol can help them sleep better, it can lead to negative long-term consequences.

To avoid alcohol dependence, it’s vital to seek a medical professional for your insomnia and alcohol use. Different treatment options are available to treat both conditions.

Updated on July 31, 2023
9 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Aldrich, M., and Shipley, JE. “ Alcohol use and periodic limb movements of sleep.” Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 1993.

  2. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “ Frequent binge drinking is associated with insomnia symptoms in older adults.”, 2013.

  3. Pietilä et al. “ Acute Effect of Alcohol Intake on Cardiovascular Autonomic Regulation During the First Hours of Sleep in a Large Real-World Sample of Finnish Employees: Observational Study.” JMIR mental health, 2018.

  4. Roehrs, T., and Roth, T. “ Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use.” Alcohol Res Health, 2001.

  5. Rupp et al. “ Evening alcohol suppresses salivary melatonin in young adults.” Chronobiology International, 2007.

  6. Stein, M., and Friedmann, P. “Disturbed Sleep and Its Relationship to Alcohol Use.” Substance abuse, 2005.

  7. Popovici, I., and French, M. “ Binge Drinking and Sleep Problems Among Young Adults.” Drug and alcohol dependence, 2013.

  8. Jiang  et al. “Relationship of depression and sleep quality, diseases and general characteristics.” World J Psychiatry, 2022.

  9. Thakkar et al. “Alcohol disrupts sleep homeostasis.” Alcohol, 2015.

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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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