Alcohol is a substance that has a wide range of impacts on the human body. Many people consume alcohol in the evening as a nightcap, relying upon its sedative effects to doze off at night.
Alcohol can help some people fall asleep almost immediately, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll help us remain asleep or to gain quality rest. Alcohol consumption can make a good night’s sleep impossible.
Drinking alcohol at any time plunges the body’s circadian rhythms into disarray, confusing the brain in the meantime. Additionally, alcohol can increase blood pressure, leave you needing to urinate throughout the night, and enhance any issues with sleep apnea.
Of course, that’s not to mention the emotional impact that alcohol can have. As a psychoactive substance, alcohol alters brain chemistry, which will invariably impact your sense of calm before heading to bed.
Is it Bad to Drink Alcohol Before Bed?
There is no denying that alcohol can act as a short-term sedative and help us fall asleep.
However, dozing caused by alcohol consumption isn’t quality sleep. You’ll not rise from any alcohol-inspired slumber feeling refreshed.
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research explains that while alcohol may help you nod off, it’ll drastically disturb the second half of your sleep. Think of alcohol as encouraging a power nap, but at the expense of sleeping through the night.
Alcohol consumption before bed can also become habitual. As your body grows used to alcohol at night, it builds tolerance to its effects. This can slowly lead to dependence. As confirmed by Substance Abuse, insomnia is a common side effect.
So, it’s inadvisable to drink alcohol before bed. If you can, schedule a break between the cessation of drinking and getting into bed at night. This will improve your chances of sleeping well.
When To Stop Drinking Alcohol Before Bed
Understanding when alcohol consumption should stop ahead of sleep is a balancing act. The initial effects of alcohol will be sedative, so it’s tempting to continue drinking until bedtime. This will only provide short-term sleepiness.
It takes around one hour for the body to process eight grams of alcohol. This means that it may not be realistic to thoroughly purge the body of alcohol before bed.
Expect to wait around two hours to process a single bottle of beer or glass of wine.
You can minimize the impact by allowing the alcohol to start working through your body before heading to bed. The less alcohol you have in your system, the faster you enter a traditional sleep cycle.
This doesn’t mean you’ll remain asleep. As alcohol is a diuretic, you’ll likely need to urinate at least once overnight. Dehydration may also wake you. All the same, allowing hours to pass between drinking and bedtime gives you a fighting chance of sleeping.
Why Does Alcohol Keep Me Awake All Night?
We have established that alcohol will have a detrimental impact on your ability to gain quality sleep. Arguably the bigger question is why this is the case.
There are seven core ways that alcohol will prevent you from enjoying a restful slumber:
Impact on Circadian Rhythms
If you enjoy a drink at lunchtime, you may feel sleepy almost immediately afterward, while drinking in the evening could energize you.
This contradictory paradox is caused by alcohol confusing the circadian rhythms.
As per Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, a single incident of alcohol consumption will disrupt the release of melatonin – aka “the sleep hormone” – and cortisol – “the stress hormone.” This will leave your body unsure about the time of day.
Over a more extended period, these disruptions to the circadian rhythms can lead to alcohol dependence and abuse. The body and brain lose all sense of time and demand alcohol at inappropriate moments, such as in the morning or during a working afternoon.
A knock-on effect of this is the impact it’ll have on your ability to sleep. The circadian rhythms will become governed by alcohol consumption, not the rise and fall of the sun. This artifice is dangerous and unsustainable if you want quality sleep.
Interference with Natural Sleep Cycles
The human body undergoes four sleep cycles across eight hours of slumber:
- Stage 1 – The muscles and mind begin to relax, which is often a natural side effect of alcohol.
- Stage 2 – The heart rate starts to slow, which isn’t always the case following alcohol consumption.
- Stage 3 – Deep, restful sleep that allows your body to repair itself.
- Stage 4 – REM sleep, or the stage of sleep in which we dream.
The body needs to work through each of these cycles over and over. Each process takes around two hours to complete, so a typical night with eight hours of sleep will have four complete sleep cycles.
Unfortunately, as explained by the journal Alcohol, intoxication can prevent us from entering REM sleep. This impact is greater than not having any dreams, as it means we’re not completing sleep cycles.
This will have a detrimental impact on how we feel in the morning. While many people fear a hangover after a night of drinking, poor-quality sleep plays a major role in feelings of discontent.
Perceived Changes to Body Temperature
When you drink alcohol, you’ll invariably start to feel your cheeks flush and will feel a little warmer. This is because alcohol is a vasodilator – it encourages the blood vessels to relax and widen. As a result, blood pumps with abandon throughout your body.
Every sip of your drink will likely make you feel even warmer as your liver works overtime to process the alcohol you consume.
It’s worth noting that the alcohol isn’t increasing your temperature, contrary to how it feels.
Brain Research Bulletin describes alcohol as a poikilothermic agent, meaning that it reacts to ambient temperature. Essentially, if you’re in a cold room, your body temperature will remain cold; if you’re somewhere warmer, your temperature will not increase.
What alcohol does is numb your body’s response to temperature. This is why many people claim not to feel the cold outside after a night of drinking. However, just because you can’t sense changes in body temperature, this does not mean they don’t exist.
This can prevent you from sleeping. If your bedroom would be considered too warm to sleep in when sober, that will remain the case. The heat may keep you awake.
Equally, if you typically use an electric blanket or alternative to warm your extremities, you may still be awoken by cold hands or toes, even if you don’t feel the chill.
Higher Blood Pressure
As per the World Journal of Cardiology, alcohol consumption and hypertension are often linked. This is due to the same impact on blood vessels we discussed.
Initially, alcohol acts as a vasodilator. Prolonged use and abuse of alcohol will take a toll, and the substance will instead start to act as a vasoconstrictor. This means the blood vessels will shrink and tighten, not expand.
This places pressure on the kidneys. The kidneys are responsible for the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, commonly known as the RAAS. The RAAS regulates the release and levels of three hormones, aldosterone, renin, and angiotensin.
Ordinarily, these hormones will be released by the kidneys and then passed through urine, maintaining a healthy blood pressure level. As the blood vessels shrink, fewer hormones are eliminated, and the blood pressure steadily increases to dangerous levels.
High blood pressure can keep us awake at night. Sleep Medicine Reviews confirm that older adults are prone to insomnia and hypertension, with the two concerns feeding into each other.
Alcohol acts as a diuretic. Whenever we consume alcohol, we find ourselves needing to visit the bathroom with increased frequency. This may occur multiple times after you retire to bed, impacting your sleep.
Alcohol makes us urinate because it suppresses the body’s ability to release a hormone called vasopressin. When sober, the brain instructs the body to release vasopressin. This hormone encourages the kidneys to maintain water, so we remain hydrated.
Naturally, the kidneys will not wish to hold onto alcoholic liquids. The alcohol needs to be processed and eliminated as urine. This is why the release of vasopressin is placed on hold until all traces of alcohol have left our body, which can take several hours.
Enhanced Sleep Apnea
While there’s nothing to say that somebody with sleep apnea must subscribe to a teetotal lifestyle, minimizing alcohol intake will lead to a safer night’s sleep.
As per Sleep Medicine, the risks of sleep apnea are increased by alcohol consumption.
Alcohol will greatly increase the impact of sleep apnea. As alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat, sleep apnea episodes become likelier. So much so that sleep apnea can arise after drinking, even if you have never received a formal diagnosis.
This decompression of the throat muscles may last longer after drinking, meaning you stop breathing for longer periods. You may awaken in a panic when the body notices this.
Such action will also benefit a partner that shares your bed. The snoring associated with sleep apnea will be considerably louder after consuming alcohol. It’ll be hard enough to fall asleep after drinking; loud snoring will make it even trickier.
As a psychoactive substance, alcohol can dramatically impact our emotional state.
Behavior Research and Therapy confirm that the effects of alcohol can vary from person to person, but they’ll always be present.
When considering how alcohol will influence your sleep, think about how alcohol influences your behavior. Does alcohol consumption magnify your existing mood or change it?
As per Alcohol Health and Research World, drinking alcohol floods the brain with dopamine – at least for a while. This means you could feel fantastic after a drink or two. If that’s the case, you’re unlikely to want to sleep – you’d rather celebrate your happiness.
Alternatively, alcohol could make you maudlin and self-reflective. This is common as it’s a depressive drug. In such instances, you may find yourself too upset to sleep well. While sadness makes us tired, an intoxicated wallow in regret and self-loathing is rarely conducive to a good night’s sleep.
Overall, alcohol has an undeniable effect on our emotions and the way we think and feel. You’ll need to factor this into your expectations for sleep, as a drastic shift in your sense of mental wellbeing may keep you awake at night.
How To Sleep Better After Drinking Alcohol
It can feel unavoidable to separate alcohol consumption and sleep. You may have time to decompress after a night out, such as during the journey home from a bar, but that’s not always an option.
If you’re drinking up until bedtime, follow these steps to enhance the likelihood of sleeping well:
- Arrange to drink alcohol earlier in the day, giving your body time to recover.
- Consume water to temper the impact of alcohol on your body.
- Ensure the room is cool to counter any increase in body temperature, and take a cool shower.
- Plunge the room into darkness so your brain understands it is night and you should be sleeping.
- Take a moment to check your mood and calm yourself of any overt emotion.
There are no guarantees that these techniques will help you sleep through the night.
Alcohol significantly impacts the brain and body alike, and you’ll need to let it run its course. Do what you can to get quality sleep, and you’ll be glad you did so in the morning.
Alcohol intake and quality sleep are mutually exclusive concepts, so manage your expectations. You will occasionally need to choose what you value more – the opportunity to drink or sleep eight hours.
You can survive a little indulgence now and again. Just strive to find balance, not neglecting the importance of sleep in the name of decadence.