is it bad to drink alcohol before bed?

Why is Falling Asleep After Drinking Alcohol So Difficult?

Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Louise Carter

Alcohol is a substance that has a wide range of impacts on the human body. Many drink beer, wine, or spirits in the evening as a nightcap, relying on its sedative effects to doze off.

Alcohol can help some people fall asleep almost immediately, but that doesn’t mean you’ll remain asleep or get quality rest. Alcohol consumption can make prolonged sleep impossible.

Drinking alcohol adversely affects the body’s circadian rhythms. Additionally, alcohol can increase blood pressure, leave you needing to urinate during the night, and exacerbate sleep apnea.

Of course, that’s not to mention the emotional impact. As a psychoactive substance, alcohol alters brain chemistry, which impacts our sense of calm before bed.

Is it Bad to Drink Alcohol Before Bed?

There’s no denying that alcohol can be a short-term sedative and help people fall asleep.

However, sleeping caused by alcohol consumption isn’t high-quality sleep. You won’t rise from alcohol-triggered sleep feeling refreshed and revitalized.

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research explains that while alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, it’ll disturb the second half of your sleep.

As the body grows used to alcohol at night, it tolerates its effects, leading to dependence. According to Substance Abuse, insomnia is a common side effect of alcohol consumption.

Never drink alcohol before bed. Schedule a break between the cessation of drinking and getting into bed at night because this will improve your chances of sleeping well.

When To Stop Drinking Alcohol Before Bed

The initial effects of alcohol will be sedative, so it’s tempting to continue drinking until bedtime.

This will only result in short-term sleepiness. The body takes 1 hour to process 8 grams of alcohol. Consequently, it’s unrealistic to purge the body of alcohol before bed.

Expect to wait around 2 hours to process a glass of beer or wine.

You can minimize the impact by allowing the alcohol to work through the body before heading to bed. The less alcohol you have in your system, the sooner you’ll enter a sleep cycle.

This doesn’t mean you’ll remain asleep. As alcohol is a diuretic, you’ll urinate at least once overnight.

Can alcohol keep you awake all night?

Why Does Alcohol Keep Me Awake All Night?

There are various ways alcohol prevents you from sleeping:

Circadian Rhythms

If you drink at lunchtime, you may feel sleepy afterward, while drinking in the evening could energize you. This paradox is due to alcohol confusing our circadian rhythms.

According to Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, a single incident of alcohol consumption will disrupt the release of melatonin (the “sleep hormone”) and cortisol (the “stress hormone.”) This will leave the body unsure about the time of day.

Over an extended period, these disruptions to the circadian rhythms can lead to alcohol dependence. The body and mind lose all sense of time and demand alcohol at inappropriate times.

A knock-on effect is its impact on your ability to sleep. Unfortunately, your circadian rhythms will become governed by alcohol consumption, not the rise and fall of the sun.

Natural Sleep Cycles

The human body undergoes 4 sleep cycles across 8 hours of rest:

  • 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 several times. Each process takes around 2 hours, so a night with 8 hours of sleep will have 4 complete cycles.

As explained by the journal Alcohol, intoxication can prevent us from entering REM sleep. The impact is greater than not having dreams because 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, low-quality sleep influences feelings of discontentment.

Perceived Body Temperature Changes

When you drink alcohol, you’ll feel your cheeks flush and will feel warmer.

This is because alcohol is a vasodilator, encouraging the blood vessels to relax and widen. As a result, the blood pumps freely throughout the body.

Every sip of your drink will likely make you feel even warmer as your liver works harder to process the alcohol you consume. However, alcohol doesn’t increase your temperature, contrary to how it feels.

Brain Research Bulletin describes alcohol as a poikilothermic agent reacting to ambient temperature.

If you’re in a cold room, your body temperature will remain cold. If you’re somewhere warmer, your temperature won’t increase. Alcohol numbs the body’s response to temperature.

If your bedroom feels too warm to sleep in when sober, that won’t change. Equally, if you use an electric blanket or alternative to warm your extremities, you may still awaken due to cold hands or toes.

High Blood Pressure

According to the World Journal of Cardiology, alcohol consumption and hypertension are often linked due to how it affects blood vessels.

Initially, alcohol acts as a vasodilator. Prolonged use of alcohol will eventually start to serve as a vasoconstrictor, meaning the blood vessels will shrink and tighten, not expand.

This places pressure on the kidneys, which are responsible for the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, commonly known as the RAAS.

RAAS regulates the release and levels of 3 hormones: aldosterone, renin, and angiotensin.

Normally, they’re released by the kidneys and passed through urine, maintaining a healthy blood pressure level. As the blood vessels shrink, fewer hormones are eliminated, and blood pressure steadily increases to dangerous levels.

High blood pressure can keep us awake. Sleep Medicine Reviews said that older adults are prone to insomnia and hypertension, with the two concerns perpetuating each other.

Increased Urination

Alcohol acts as a diuretic. Whenever we consume alcohol, we need to visit the bathroom frequently. This may occur multiple times after you retire to bed, impacting your sleep.

Alcohol makes us urinate because it suppresses our ability to release 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 won’t want 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 the body, which can take several hours.

How can I stay asleep after drinking?

Sleep Apnea

While there’s nothing to say that somebody with sleep apnea must subscribe to a teetotal lifestyle, minimizing alcohol consumption will lead to a safer night’s sleep.

As per Sleep Medicine, the risks of sleep apnea are increased by alcohol consumption.

As alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat, sleep apnea episodes become likelier. Sleep apnea can arise after drinking, even if you haven’t had 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 realizes.

The snoring associated with sleep apnea will be considerably louder after consuming alcohol.

Emotional Impact

As a psychoactive substance, alcohol can dramatically impact our emotional state. Behavior Research and Therapy state that the effects of alcohol can vary from person to person.

When considering how alcohol influences sleep, consider how alcohol affects behavior. Does alcohol consumption magnify or change your mood?

As per Alcohol Health and Research World, drinking alcohol floods the brain with dopamine. This means you could feel good after 1-2 drinks. If that’s the case, you’re unlikely to want to sleep.

Alcohol could make you maudlin and self-reflective. If so, you may find yourself too upset to sleep well. While sadness makes us tired, being intoxicated and wallowing in regret and self-loathing won’t.

How To Sleep Better After Drinking Alcohol

It can seem impossible to separate alcohol consumption from sleep. You may have time to decompress after a night out, such as during the journey home, but that doesn’t always happen.

If you’re drinking until bedtime, follow these steps to improve your chances of sleeping:

  1. Drink alcohol earlier in the day, giving the body time to recover.
  2. Consume water to temper the adverse effects of alcohol.
  3. Ensure the room is cool to counter an increase in body temperature.
  4. Plunge the room into darkness so the brain understands it is nighttime.
  5. Assess your mood and calm yourself of overt emotion.

Alcohol significantly impacts the brain and body, so you must let the effects run their course. Drinking alcohol and quality sleep are mutually exclusive concepts, so manage your expectations.