How Alcohol Affects Sleep

February 15, 2023

How Alcohol Affects Sleep

Though consuming an alcoholic beverage or two on occasion may not be harmful, long-term alcohol consumption or alcohol abuse can have some serious unwanted side effects. Consuming alcohol before bedtime may seem to help you fall asleep faster, but, it can affect a normal sleep-wake cycle, and disrupt sleep. Alcohol and sleep seem to go hand-in-hand, but just how is moderate alcohol consumption affecting sleep?

Can alcohol Help You Sleep?

When you drink alcohol, the central nervous system becomes depressed, resulting in slower brain activity, and a slight sedative effect. This could be why drinking alcohol is often confused as a healthy sleep aid.

Alcohol intake can naturally leave your body relaxed, and can induce tiredness, making it easier to fall asleep. However, alcohol consumption has been linked to sleep disruption, sleep disorders, and the exacerbation of sleep apnea.

Though consuming alcohol has no factual benefits in regards to sleep, nearly 20 percent of American adults have an alcohol dependence to fall asleep. Even if you only have one drink in the evening, alcohol consumed on a regular basis has proven to be more harmful than helpful when it comes to a good night’s sleep. Experts report it is best to avoid alcohol close to bedtime to achieve better sleep.

What Happens During a Normal Sleep Cycle?

To understand how alcohol use can cause sleep problems, one must first understand what healthy sleep patterns look like. As you sleep, the brain goes through four sleep stages — each lasting approximately 90 to 120 minutes.

Stage One: Non-REM Sleep

The first stage of non-rem sleep allows the mind and body to gently transition between wakefulness and sleep. All body functions, such as heart rate, breathing, eye movement, and brain activity, slow down, and muscles begin to relax. Non-rem sleep is commonly referred to as light sleep among sleep specialists.

Stage Two: NREM Sleep

The second stage of non-rem sleep is typically the longest of the four sleep stages. Similar to light sleep, during this cycle, the breathing and heart rate continues to slow, allowing the body to enter into deeper stages of sleep.

Stage Three: NREM

As the third sleep stage approaches, your heart rate, breathing, and brain activity have reached their lowest point. This stage is referred to as slow-wave sleep, as body activity, including rapid eye movement, has reached the slowest it will be during the night.

Stage Four: REM Sleep

During the fourth and final stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, eye movement restarts, and brain activity, breathing, and heart rate are increased. Rapid eye movement sleep is also where dreams occur for sleepers. REM sleep is crucial in memory consolidation and quality sleep.

Though distilled spirits may not leave you having trouble falling asleep, moderate drinking has been linked to restless sleep for years.

How does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

Everything a person eats and drinks throughout the day goes through the digestive system, into the stomach, and the body metabolizes it, or turns it into useful energy easily absorbed to fuel the body.

When alcohol enters the bloodstream, the body metabolizes it through the liver; however, this is a slower process for some, leaving alcohol to remain in the bloodstream. The effects of alcohol vary greatly, depending on what type of alcohol was consumed, the rate at which alcohol consumption took place, and the physical body shape of a person.

Commonly reported alcohol and sleep issues include:

Alcohol Increases Snoring

Though muscle activity relaxes as you change from light sleep to deep sleep, the muscles in the back of the throat remain intact to avoid airway obstruction. Moderate drinking allows the epiglottis to close quicker than usual, resulting in excessive or loud snoring, when you typically would not snore sober.

Exacerbated Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Sleep apnea is a serious, life-altering medical condition affecting millions of Americans. There are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, and central sleep apnea, both of which result in temporary pauses in breathing as you sleep. Because the effects of alcohol relax the epiglottis and other muscles in the back of the throat, even one drink can cause the upper airway to become weak, which can add to the risk factor of apneic episodes.

Altered Sleep Stages

For quality sleep and restorative sleep, the brain must go through four stages of sleep: light sleep, deep sleep, slow-wave sleep, and REM sleep. Alcohol use can make sleep initiation easier, but alcohol affects sleep stages resulting in frequent awakenings and sleep disruptions. REM sleep is a crucial part of the sleep cycle; however, alcohol consumption diminishes REM sleep, leaving the sleeper to feel groggy, and more tired the next day.

Altered Circadian Rhythm

The circadian rhythm is responsible for keeping the body and mind centered throughout the duration of a 24-hour period. As bedtime approaches, the circadian rhythm releases a hormone called melatonin, which helps a person fall asleep. When you drink alcohol too close to bedtime, melatonin levels are significantly decreased, negatively affecting sleep quality.

Sleep Disorders Become More Prevalent

Millions of Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder that greatly impacts their sleep quality. Alcohol use with a sleep disorder is contraindicated, as it has been proven to exacerbate sleep disorder symptoms, such as insomnia and more frequent awakenings.

As blood alcohol levels rise, the body becomes more tired, leaving people to think having a drink helps them to sleep better; however, the second half of the night is poor quality sleep, leaving you tired the following day.

How Much Alcohol does it Take to Impact Sleep?

The amount of alcohol it takes to affect sleep varies from one person to the next, as each person’s body metabolizes alcohol differently. Some people can have one drink and get quality sleep, while others should avoid alcohol at bedtime, as only one drink can significantly affect sleep patterns.

Low Alcohol Amounts

Lower amounts of alcohol consumption, typically less than two drinks for the average male, and less than one drink for the average female, decreases sleep quality by up to 9.3 percent. This may seem like a small number, but it shows that even one drink can affect sleep.

Moderate Alcohol Amounts

As blood alcohol levels rise, the body and mind are altered in more ways than one. Moderate alcohol consumption is classified as two drinks for the average adult male, and one drink for women. Alcohol intake at moderate levels can disrupt sleep quality by 24 percent.

High Alcohol Amounts

Heavy drinking brings about higher sedative effects, making falling asleep easy, but staying asleep much more difficult. Alcohol abuse can decrease sleep quality by up to 39 percent, causing serious sleep problems.

What to Drink Before Bed Besides Alcohol

Sleep disruptions as a result of too much alcohol are all too real for millions of Americans — many of which do not realize there is a problem until sleep quality is significantly impacted. Alcohol and sleep do not mix well; however, there are many other options to drink before bed to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

Cherry Juice

Cherry juice, whether tart or sweet, offers many health benefits, including better sleep habits. Cherries have Tryptophan — an amino acid that comes before the hormone called melatonin. As previously mentioned, melatonin enhances sleep; therefore, increasing tryptophan increases melatonin levels.

Recent studies have shown that tart cherries contain the most melatonin. In addition, regularly drinking cherry juice can increase sleep by more than 80 minutes.


Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is a flower derived from the Asteraceae family, with many benefits, including improving skin health, anti-inflammatory properties, common cold symptom relief, and improvements in sleep. Consuming chamomile tea at bedtime can help to ease anxiety, and relieve insomnia symptoms.

Ashwagandha Tea

Commonly referred to as Indian ginseng and winter cherry, Ashwagandha tea has been used to treat anxiety, stress, and arthritis — all conditions that can alter sleep quality. Tea made from the berries, leaves, and roots of the Ashwagandha plant has trimethylene glycol, which promotes REM sleep.

Peppermint Tea

Peppermint tea has many beneficial properties, such as anti-allergenic, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. In addition, peppermint tea has been proven to relieve gastrointestinal discomfort, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Warm Milk

Have you heard the old wives' tale that drinking a glass of warm milk before bed will help you sleep better? While warming the milk may just be for comfort, milk contains Tryptophan, which increases several key hormones that aid the body in slowing all functions, allowing you to fall asleep easier.

Almond Milk

Almond milk is jam-packed with health benefits, including fiber, minerals, and vitamins, such as tryptophan, magnesium, and melatonin - all of which play a crucial part in healthy sleep patterns. It’s important to note that almond milk is made from nuts, and should be avoided by those with a nut allergy.

What if I Cannot Fall Asleep Without Alcohol?

More than 6 percent of the American adult population has an alcohol use disorder, leaving their bodies dependent on alcohol for basic functions such as falling asleep. Even small amounts of alcohol used routinely can disrupt healthy sleep cycles, leading to the exacerbation of harmful sleep disorders, sleep deprivation, and general fatigue. Sleep is crucial to maintaining many different functions; therefore sleep quality should be a priority in your day-to-day life.

Keep a Consistent Schedule

The body and mind thrive on routine. Creating and maintaining a consistent schedule, such as setting a bedtime and wake time, can greatly increase sleep quality, allowing for rejuvenating sleep. Creating a sleep schedule is one of the easiest things we can do to help our body recognize when bedtime is approaching.

Create a Sleep Oasis

Do you get comfortable in bed, and turn on your favorite television show, or scroll through social media for thirty minutes? The artificial blue light emitted from cellular devices and TVs has a harmful impact on the brain, affecting normal circadian rhythms, making it increasingly difficult to fall asleep. Experts recommend reading a book in low light, or listening to your favorite soothing podcast in a dark or dim room.

Let Eco Terra Help!

Let’s be honest, purchasing a new mattress is not always top on our list of sleeping better — but it should be. With 24 hours in a day, we spend at least 8 hours in bed, so why are we not prioritizing comfort?

At Eco Terra, we have handcrafted a natural hybrid latex mattress made without harsh chemicals, polyurethane, or harmful toxins. Our mattress meets some of the highest safety and purity standards with many leading competitors unable to match.

At Eco Terra, we understand how important sleep is to the human body, which is why we strive to provide you with the necessary tools to aid in better sleep.

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 13 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.