A drink before bed might seem like just the thing to relax you and help you nod off. Many people feel sleepy after a drink or two, but using liquor as a sleep aid isn’t a good idea. If you’re having trouble sleeping, better to try meditation, reading or listening to tranquil music than a hot toddy or a nightcap. Alcohol before bed can do more harm than good.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports than in sleep studies, participants who drink alcohol 30 to 60 minutes before going to bed do generally fall asleep faster than study participants who don’t have a drink. Alcohol does help you relax and fall asleep. Some studies have shown that smaller amounts of alcohol, even a single drink, are more effective than larger quantities of alcohol at helping you fall asleep. A 2006 study of seven woman at Brown Medical School in Rhode Island showed that a single drink before bed resulted in increased intensity of sleep for the first few hours of the night.
Though alcohol may help you fall asleep more quickly, it doesn’t help you stay asleep. When the alcohol leaves your body, usually a few hours after you fall asleep, you experience what researchers call the rebound effect. You grow more restless and the sleep cycle is disrupted. Even if you don’t actually wake, your sleep is less restful. The alcohol interferes with the type and pattern of sleep, so your body can't rest and recharge as it should. A 2006 study at the University of Wisconsin found that for men, drinking before bedtime exacerbated any kind of breathing disorder, such as sleep apnea and snoring, which can decrease the likelihood of restful sleep. And the 2006 Brown women's study found that the patterns of brain activity for sleep after one drink were different from that of sleep without alcohol.
The Next Day
The day after your night of alcohol-assisted sleep, you’ll feel more fatigued and less alert. Even if you spent eight hours with your eyes closed in bed, the sleep you experienced was less restful. You may have difficulty concentrating, be more irritable and simply not feel as well, because the sleep you experienced wasn’t the quality of sleep your body needs.
Your body builds up a tolerance to the effect of alcohol if you continue to drink regularly. You may start out using one drink to fall asleep, but eventually you’ll need two, then three or more. More alcohol increases the disruptive effects on your sleep. If you take a prescription sleep aid along with the alcohol, you could risk suppressing your breathing or overdose. Taking acetaminophen with alcohol can damage your liver. If you suffer from sleep apnea, drinking can worsen the problem.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Sleep, Sleepiness and Alcohol Use
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Alert
- Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: Association of Alcohol Consumption and Sleep Disordered Breathing in Men and Women
- Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research: Effects of Alcohol on Sleep and the Sleep Electroencephalogram in Healthy Young Women