Back to blog
feel better
Curious about how alcohol impacts sleep quality? Here's where you'll find all that need to know info!
when to *ditch the booze* before bed

TGIF, right? Time to put that laptop away, forget about work and enjoy a well-earned weekend wind down. And where better to start than the pub? From a couple of sharpeners at home in front of the TV to a sustained beer session at the boozer, few of us can resist a drink or two when the work week is done. Maybe a cocktail or two during the week too. After all, why not? What harm can drinking really do? Well, if you’re starting your Monday morning feeling just as knackered as you did on Friday afternoon, the answer could be right there in that wine glass. Despite what you might think, alcohol and sleep don’t mix well at all. So, before you reach for that relaxing G&T or that Irish cream laced hot chocolate, take the time to get informed on the effects of alcohol and sleep. 

can’t sleep after drinking? here’s why… 

We all know the feeling. You’re a bit tipsy after a night out with the girls (or guys) and you fall into bed without taking your make up off or changing into your PJs. You’re gone, completely gone. Until you’re not … 

normal sleep cycles 

Ordinarily when we drop off our body follows a pretty predictable pattern. We cycle through four stages of sleep over and over again roughly every hour and a half to two hours – the length of the average film until some clever movie dicks turned cinema into an endurance sport. On a normal booze-free night we’ll experience more NREM (non-REM) sleep early in the night and more REM sleep later on. Both types of sleep are needed to help us feel refreshed and skippy in the morning but REM sleep is especially important for our brain, supporting learning and memory (1). 

alcohol and sleep cycles 

Here’s the kicker. When we drink we tend to send ourselves straight into the deepest level of sleep (AKA N3 sleep, part of the NREM phase). Later on, as your sleeping body sobers up and remembers the embarrassing things it said to Jim from accounting, it wanders into what’s known as N1 sleep, often skipping the vital REM stage completely. And N1 sleep is a pain in the proverbial butt if you want to feel rested. The lightest stage of sleep, usually experienced as you first drop off, N1 isn’t particularly refreshing and, during this phase you’ll wake up more easily too. That’s why after you’ve been out for a night on the sauce you’ll often find yourself blinking into that watery early morning light wondering where you are and why the hell you’re up before the birds. Early mornings spent alone with your thoughts can’t help with the fear either. 

why sleep cycles are so important 

A couple of nights of poor sleep are nothing to worry about, leaving you feeling nothing more than a bit blah and perhaps putting a dent in your productivity at work too. It’s well known, however, that over the long term poor quality sleep can have severe effects on our lives. A lack of REM stage and N3 deep sleep in particular has been linked to problems with thinking (2) (substance abuse issues (3) and emotional difficulties (4). Additionally, a lack of sleep can make us irritable and difficult to live with (we all get snappy when we’re tired, right?) while also making it harder to focus at work and on that all important Bridgerton season finale. 

the effects of alcohol on sleep 

So why does alcohol affect sleep so severely? What is it about the booze that makes a good night’s sleep after drinking a near impossibility? 

alcohol insomnia and your core temperature 

Waking up in a pool of sweat is never pleasant. It’s even worse when you’re experiencing the dreaded midnight hangover. When we drink alcohol a whole bunch of cool (yet not very cool) things happen in our bodies. One of these weird adaptations is that our blood vessels widen, causing your body temperature to soar. That’s why your cheeks will often feel red and warm when you’re a couple of vino tintos in. Eventually, however, that extra heat will pass out of your body making you feel cold again. Not to mention the fact that when you sweat at night the moisture evaporates and cools your body. These unpleasant temperature fluctuations could cause you to wake at night, disrupting that all-important deep sleep. 

alcohol and sleep (and your tiny bladder) 

You know exactly what happens when you eventually break the seal. First it’s one quick trip to the lavs and, before you know it, you’ve set up camp in there because the peeing just … won’t … stop. Alcohol is notorious for making us go (and go and go). Not only are most of us drinking more liquids than we normally would but alcohol is a bloomin’ good diuretic too. 

Ready for some science? Day-to-day our body produces vasopressin, a clever hormone that tells our kidneys to absorb as much water as poss, keeping us nicely hydrated. However, when we drink our system kicks its feet up and lets alcohol supress the production of vasopressin. What does that mean? Quite simply, that tasty £12 cosmo goes straight through you. This diuretic dilemma will probably continue as you sleep, causing you to wake for repeated toilet trips. 

alcohol and snoring 

Are you a snorer? Even if not, a few drinks are likely to turn you into one. Alcohol acts as a relaxant, which explains that ‘ahhhh’ you might experience when you take your first few sips. It also means that the muscles in the back of your throat are likely to rest up after a pint or two as well. The result? A good old-fashioned window-rattling snore. And not only will snoring disturb anyone unfortunate enough to be snoozing next to you, it can rudely waken you from your beauty sleep too. 

can’t sleep after alcohol?: when is drinking before bed a real problem? 

Most of us are partial to a tipple or two every now and again. Fortunately, for the majority of us, an occasional drink won’t cause anything more than a night of disrupted sleep and a vice-like headache in the morning. However, there are some situations which should give you pause before you pour. 

when sleep with alcohol is your only solution 

If you’ve read this far you’ll know that drinking alcohol can be pretty disruptive to your sleep. Nonetheless, many people find that alcoholic beverages make for a pretty good sleep aid. Or at least, it can appear that way. If you’re struggling to get off to sleep at night you may be tempted to harness alcohol’s sedative effect because, as we know, a snifter can help to knock you out, and quickly too. If you’re not drinking to excess you may well think there’s no harm. You may not notice any ill effects either. However, research shows that a single drink can reduce sleep quality by 24% in women (two drinks will cause the same effect in men). More than that and you’re looking at a reduction in sleep quality of around 39% (5). It’s a deficit that quickly adds up. 

If you simply can’t sleep without a little booze in your bloodstream it’s advisable to speak to your GP about alternative solutions. 

when alcohol and apnea is a problem 

If you’re a snorer there’s a very good case that you also have a degree of sleep apnea too, with research showing that up to 96% of those who snore could be suffering (6). Very simply, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which your breathing stops and starts repeatedly overnight. This causes gasping or choking sounds and can make you repeatedly wake up. 

If you have sleep apnea your GP has likely already recommended numerous lifestyle changes. These might include losing weight, sleeping on your side and, yes, reducing your alcohol consumption, especially right before bed. As well as exacerbating snoring and sleep apnea, drinking alcohol may reduce the effectiveness of the CPAP machines prescribed for those with severe apnea. 

when your alcohol consumption is too high 

It’s a known fact that those who consume high levels of alcohol can develop poor sleep habits. This results in irregular sleep patterns, including daytime napping, and poor sleep quality (7). The dodgy sleep habits developed by big drinkers will then often carry on, even if you give up drinking entirely. Studies show that anywhere from 36% to 91% of drinkers will experience insomnia either while drinking or within weeks of stopping (8). With this in mind it’s well worth keeping a tight rein on your alcohol consumption, reducing down to the NHS’s recommended 14 units or less per week. 

alcohol and sleep … and everything else: tips for better sleep 

Whether it’s a boozy dinner or a few cocktails and a gossip, sometimes it’s hard to resist the siren call of the bar. Far be it from us to recommend a monk-like, vice-free life. Instead, let us make some sensible recommendations to help you minimise the impact of your night out on your sleep health. 

stop drinking well before bed 

We know that once you pop (the prosecco cork) it’s hard to stop. However, reducing those late night binges could help to minimise the effects of alcohol on your sleep. Alcohol, as we know, takes quite a while to metabolise out of your system. That said, you may be able to reduce sleep disruption by stopping drinking earlier in the evening, giving your body a little time to relax and flush out some of the bad stuff that’ll keep you awake. Our top tip? Switch to (caffeine-free) softs early in the evening and give your body time to get sleepy naturally by taking a warm shower or reading a chapter before you turn in. 

maintain your sleep schedule 

If you’ve stayed up late on the sauce you may understandably be tempted to treat yourself to a lie in. Although sleeping late might make logical sense, especially if you haven’t slept well, it could cause even more problems that could rumble on for days. 

Building a sensible sleep schedule that you can stick to is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind. Turning in and waking up at similar times every day, plus having a routine that tells your internal clock that it’s go to sleep/get up and go time can help reduce insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Stick to that schedule, even in the face of a monster hangover, and you’ll thank yourself later. 

create the perfect atmosphere for sleep 

Road noise, disruptive lights or a lumpy mattress. There are all kinds of things that can seriously mess with your ability to sleep without you even noticing. We recommend taking the time to create a sanctuary in which sleep is assured, even when your sobriety isn’t. Invest in blackout blinds if you’re disturbed by the sunrise. Use a white noise app if passers-by wake you up. Consider whether your bed provides the right level of support and comfort for the position you sleep in. Your night on the tiles might cause disruption to your ability to sleep but, with a bedroom built for restful sleep, at least you’re giving yourself a fighting chance when those units start to wear off. 

ready the drinker’s den 

Got a big night out planned? Make time to ready your bedroom before you hit the pub and drunk-at-2am you will be truly thankful. Before you pull on your party shoes pop a big bottle of fresh water on your bedside table along with a packet of painkillers and some rehydration tablets, all of which can get to work on that hangover before it begins. Open a window to let that good fresh air in and close your curtains, because drunk you always forgets (and hungover you curse daylight). Finally, leave your toothbrush, toothpaste and make up remover wipes where you can’t fail to miss them. At least when you awaken feeling worse for wear you won’t have to battle panda eyes and hamster cage breath.