Alcohol and Insomnia: Everything Your Need to Know (2024)

Research shows that regular alcohol intake can reduce sleep quality over time, potentially causing issues such as insomnia.

Even though a glass or two may help you initially drift off faster, it probably won’t benefit your sleep quality in the long run.

More than 70% of those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) also experience alcohol-induced sleep disorders, such as insomnia, according to scientists in a 2020 review. Regular drinking has also been linked to shorter periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a disrupted circadian rhythm, and snoring.

Here’s what else to know about the relationship between nightcaps and your nightly rest.

Alcohol use is strongly linked to poor sleep quality. Although experts can’t be certain that alcohol directly causes insomnia, numerous studies have found a link between this sleep disorder and alcohol consumption.

Scientists have also found a bidirectional relationship between alcohol and poor sleep quality: those who drink often experience disrupted sleep, while those who find it difficult to sleep well often use alcohol to cope.

But wait ― doesn’t a glass or two help you relax and drift off? It’s true that alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system, which in low doses can act as a sedative and help you fall asleep faster.

But in higher quantities, it’s strongly linked to a reduction in sleep quality. A 2020 research review also linked alcohol consumption to:

  • a disrupted circadian rhythm
  • shorter sleep times
  • longer sleep times or oversleeping
  • disturbances in REM sleep
  • increased odds of other sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea)
  • snoring
  • vivid dreams
  • daytime sleepiness

Alcohol also can cause frequent urination, which can make you get up to go pee more frequently.

Alcohol-induced sleep disorders may include:

  • insomnia
  • sleep apnea
  • parasomnias (sleep terrors, sleepwalking)

Although there’s no evidence that alcohol can cause narcolepsy (sleepwalking), it does disrupt REM sleep, which may make the onset of sleepwalking more likely.

According to researchers, the reason so many people with AUD also experience sleeping difficulties could also be explained by:

  • genetics
  • comorbid or existing depression
  • general disturbances in sleep rhythm (such as shift work)

So while cutting out drinking will likely benefit your sleep, there may be other factors affecting your shuteye.

Keep in mind that for people with AUD, sleeping issues may persist through the withdrawal phase. Researchers from a 2020 study concluded that those with AUD need at least 5–9 months of abstaining from drinking in order to normalize their sleep duration and rhythm, so try to be patient with yourself during this time.

Everything in moderation: If you want to enjoy a drink now and then, there are ways to do so while minimizing the impact on your sleep schedule, including:

  • Be kind to your body: If you know you’ll be having a few drinks in the evening, make sure to hydrate especially well during the day. Don’t skip meals or start drinking on an empty stomach. It may also help to have a source of electrolytes on hand to rehydrate the next day.
  • Let your body metabolize it first: Metabolizing the alcohol before you go to bed may minimize its impact on your sleep. So, since it takes your body, on average, 1 hour to metabolize one drink, if you have a couple of martinis, don’t attempt to drift off for another 2 hours.
  • Pee before you sleep: Maybe it sounds obvious, but using the restroom before bed will reduce the risk you’ll wake up in the middle of the night because you have to go.
  • Exercise in the daytime: Exercise can’t cancel out the impact of a few drinks ― but it can improve your overall health and sleep quality in general. At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise in a day is linked to better sleep.
  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time can help regulate your circadian rhythm.
  • Prioritize sleep hygiene: Since blue light can keep you up at night, try to avoid it for at least an hour before bed. Setting up a comfortable, dark, and quiet sleep environment will also help you rest up.
  • Try taking melatonin: A healthy body produces the sleep hormone melatonin naturally. But, taking melatonin supplements can aid in sleep quality and help you doze off quicker. Keep in mind that research is limited. A small 2020 study didn’t find a significant benefit of taking melatonin on those with AUD. But it may still be worth a try.

Changing your relationship with alcohol

AUD is a pattern of drinking that causes at least two pervasive social, functional, or health issues over the course of a year. Such issues might include:

  • neglecting social functions
  • using alcohol even in dangerous situations
  • tolerance or withdrawal
  • issues sleeping

A great first step is to speak with a therapist, trusted loved one, or a primary care doctor about your desire to make a change.

You may also want to try:

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Numerous studies suggest a strong link between drinking and disrupted sleep, shorter sleep times, an irregular circadian rhythm, and an increased risk of sleep disorders like insomnia.

While a drink now and then may have a sedative effect that causes you to drift off faster, research shows that it can impede sleep quality in the long run.

If you think your drinking may be impeding your sleep or overall quality of life, speaking to your doctor or therapist is a great first step.

Alcohol and Insomnia: Everything Your Need to Know (2024)
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