How does alcohol affect sleep ? You may be surpised!


A presentation that blew my mind

So for a moment let’s take a step back from how does alcohol affect sleep? It was a cold winter’s spell. So I organized my health and well-being session one week when I worked in Newcastle UK so staff could look at everything from their mindfulness to health tips and daily habits. So as part of the process of one the team had invited in a sleep expert. I have to admit I thought I had heard it all before and we can cover some of his top tips later.

However he said one thing that literally stopped me in my tracks. He said that the only time our immune system was working at full speed was when we were in deep sleep, so if alcohol and a lot of it makes us sleepy is it the right kind sleep? If so, does alcohol affect sleep? The answer is yes and no but there are different cycles.

How does alcohol affect sleep ?

So is there is any reason why you should take notice of the fact alcohol can disrupt your sleep? Imagine that you are healing your body on a few hours a night. I like to think of it as a healing engine and it only works at full throttle when you are in the type of deep sleep you really need. I don’t know about you but this was groundbreaking and it makes sense.

When you are ill with the flu or a cold what do you do a lot of? That’s right, it’s the reason we can sleep for nearly 24 hours a day. The body needs to heal! This is the natural way of doing the healing, so why disrupt it?

Different types of sleep – it’s not all the same

how does alcohol affect sleep

OK so let’s break this down sleepy stuff so even I can understand it! So you get into bed and adjust the covers and your head goes on the pillow. Please notice here I am not saying you get into bed and check your social media pages.

As your head rests on the pillow you are in an awake state, preparing yourself for snuggle times in your bed. Hopefully after that you go into what I call a light sleep, some people call this dozing. The bit you can’t remember, deep sleep then of course REM ( rapid eye movement) then you repeat the brain cycle.

That should be simple, I hope so, let’s face it you will know yourself when you have had a good or bad sleep. So let’s REMEMBER REM and the effect it has on your immune system for starters.

How does alcohol affect sleep?

So in the UK we have a phrase “nightcap”, so what is a night cap drink. Well generally speaking it as drop of whiskey or another short that helps you snooze the night away into a gentle deep sleep and that is when we have to put the break on. STOP!

Sleep research has looked at the effect drinking alcohol drinking before bedtime on things like your heart pumping away and sleep. Although with most tests the number taking part were small it did show and now most people agree that drinking higher levels of alcohol limited the amount of REM sleep, and resulted in a shallower sleep later on.

So if you have thoughts you were out for the count it actually makes you very restless as well although you may not know it. You generally do feel it though.

For full disclosure the research was undertaken out by the Akita University School of Medicine, the Saiseikai Nagasaki Hospital, and the Akita Kaiseikai Hospital in Japan.I don’t know who funded it however. It has been published in several papers regarding drink issues and the newspapers of course loved it.

Ways to help you sleep and it’s not an energy drink!

These tips have worked for me as a coach and therapist, they had been surefire hits certainly most of the time

  • Routine is hard but give it a go, your body likes cycles and I don’t mean bikes. Sleep at regular times
  • They reckon you need between 6 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Work it out personally and don’t depend on your new gadget, they are not always right and sleep research has equipment that costs millions much more than your mobile.
  • Busy head equals busy sleep, a hypnotic piece of audio with no wake up can be great. Use what works for you, you are an individual not everything is suited to you. I once had a person tell me I had to do yoga every night before bed. Yeah right!
  • Your phone and tablets will wake up your brain for ages after you want to drop off. I know it maybe seems like you can drop off to a film and that maybe true but remember we are talking sleep quality wise here.
  • How Does Alcohol Affect Your Sleep? We know it gives you less of a restful and healing sleep so avoid it. Try a range of 0.0% abv options like alcohol free beers and alcohol free gin. ( Review ) The options are growing out there.
  • Remember alcohol can dehydrate you so drink water across the evening if you are drinking alcohol and not save it to bedtime. You will be peeing all night
  • If drinking after work is becoming the norm and your body is getting more tired every day this might be one of the reasons, switch to a low or no alcoholic option when you are out and ignore the social pressure to drink alcohol. My review of my favorite non-alcoholic beers is here

These tips can really work and of course the body and mind are one system so this has to be good for your mental health not to mention your ever endearing looks.

So how does alcohol affect sleep? Keep it simple.

So the chemicals in alcohol make us restless it seems so we get less of the REM important very deep sleep and we can end up with our bodies showing it both mentally and physically. This is a big issue by the way.

On my well-being day the speaker asked if anybody had a problem sleeping. About 99% of the room put their hands up. Now of course this will be a mixture of things from worry, stress, food, the next door neighbors party. It is clear that alcohol plays a major part. So it seems the 0.0% abv choices can have their uses above just saving my liver it can help me sleep as well.

Do you have problems sleeping as a result of alcohol? Always see a medical professional as my blog is my personal view. However, join in the debate, share your comments as it can lead to more articles and more questions which can always be a good thing.

Please leave your comment below and I always respond to everyone, but not just before I go to bed. That would not be clever would it?

8 thoughts on “How does alcohol affect sleep ? You may be surpised!”

  1. This is a very information article on the effects of alcohol on sleep.  Like you, I am surprised to discover after reading your post that all sleep is not created equal and that deep sleep from alcohol is not the same as normal deep sleep.   While I am not an alcohol drinker, I am a healthy lifestyle coach who continually meet people that consume alcohol and experience sleep issues.  I think the greatest eyeopener is the fact that the although the person thinks he is or appears to other to be sleeping deeply, it is not REM sleep which is necessary for healing.  Your tips are great for anyone facing sleep problems.  Thanks for sharing.

    • My pleasure Patricia, and thankyou for commenting on how does alcohol affect sleep? As you say this is a much bigger issue than just alcohol and to be honest the types of sleep was an eye opener for me as well. I think it is a much bigger issue and you must come across this as a health lifestyle coach. What a great gig! Very rewarding. Thanks so much for taking time out to add to the debate. Phil

  2. Hello Phyl, Thank you very much for a very information article on the effects of alcohol on sleep.  I am aware that alcohol can affect your sleep. I am not an alcohol drinker, I am health conscious but, meet people that consume alcohol and experience sleep issues.  I think the greatest eyeopener is the fact that the although the person thinks he is or appears to other to be sleeping deeply, it is not REM sleep which is necessary for healing. Your tips are great for anyone facing sleep problems.  Thanks for sharing.

    • My pleasure and I am so pleased it was interesting. I like you was very interested in REM sleep and not all the sleep is the same. There is no doubt in asking how does alcohol affect sleep, it certainly does but maybe not in the same way we first thought. A very insighful comment, so thanks for making time. It is really apreciated, Phil 

  3. Getting enough sleep is a real problem for a lot of people and it was interesting to read this article about the quality of sleep that one is getting and how to improve on it.

    If I drink a glass or two of wine and I go to bed afterward, it definitely makes me fall asleep faster, but unfortunately by 2 or 3 in the morning, I am wide awake again. So now after reading this, I understand why.

    My busy head as you call it is another problem, so I will definitely try and lay of the electronics at least an hour before bed from now on. Does this include TV?

    • Hey Michel, yes you have summed it up perfectly. Your point about TV is a good one and yes it does I am afraid.I think if if check my own habits I get much better sleep if I just hit the pillow without any screen activity. However we have come used to a tv in bedrooms and taking our tablets with us to bed. The screen stimulates our brain basically. We might drift off but our sleep becomes disrupted. The same way you have noticed with alcohol. These are really insighful comments so thanks for taking time out to comment on how does alcohol affect sleep. I really appreciate it, Phil

  4. This was a fascinating article. When I lived in England, it was commonplace to go to the pub every night with “me mates.” This was usually in groups from three to as many as eight or more at weekends. As you know it is the custom where everyone in the group buys a round of drinks. Hence there were many a time I went to bed after drinking 8 pints of bitter. 

    Fortunately we used to walk to the local, so there was no driving involved. If my memory serves me correctly, I do not remember having difficulty seeping, It appears that the sleep I got was not healthy. I must have got up to go to the bathroom, but can’t remember that. Once I got married in my 30’s the pub visits were greatly reduced. 

    Since coming to the US, I drink coffee before going to bed. Contrary to what is said, coffee doesn’t keep me awake at night. I have read that if you have ADD it can actually help you sleep better. 

    After reading your article I don’t think I will get to the point where I drink alcohol before going to bed.



    • Hi Edwin, what a great story and you are spot on its the quality of sleep that matters which until recently I had not realised. Again everything is personal to your own body and mind but trends are useful. Loving the pub story and I think it amazing how many people use the toilet or bathroom but can’t remember. Thanks so much for sharing, much appreciated, Phil


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