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Does Drinking Alcohol at Night Affect Sleep?

While you can have a nightcap or a drink before going to bed, you may want a cup of herbal tea instead. Does drinking alcohol at night affect sleep? Yes, it does. Alcohol is a suppressant and will slow your breathing, your movements, and coordination. While these factors may result in falling asleep, the long-term effects of drinking before sleep have a lasting impact.

What Does a Normal Sleep Cycle Look Like?

As we sleep, our bodies go through four cycles that last about 90 minutes each. A normal sleep pattern will have four to six cycles, resulting in a night of restorative and refreshing sleep. The four stages of a sleep cycle include three non-rapid eye movement (NREM) cycles and one rapid eye movement (REM) cycle.

  • NREM Cycle One. This is when you first fall asleep and your body and brain activity slow down. This dozing-off stage lasts about five to 10 minutes.
  • NREM Cycle Two. During stage two, your muscles relax, body temperature drops, and heart rate and breathing begin to slow. Eye movement stops during this cycle that lasts about 25 minutes.
  • NREM Cycle Three. For about 50 minutes, your body goes into a deep sleep when it repairs tissues, builds bones, and strengthens your immune system.
  • REM Sleep. During REM sleep, your brain activity increases, your eyes begin to move, and your heart rate increases. REM sleep begins about 90 minutes into your sleep cycle and lasts about 10 minutes.

These four stages repeat themselves throughout the sleep period.

How Alcohol Affects Your Sleep Cycle

Drinking alcohol before bed can help you fall asleep quickly, basically bypassing the first cycle of sleep. However, as the alcohol you drank before bed metabolizes, the sedative effect of it wears off and you may not go through cycles three and four, which are the restorative phases of sleep. Drinking before sleep disrupts the entire cycle and you may wake up before getting into deep sleep or REM sleep.

Alcohol Causes Other Sleep Problems

In addition to disrupted sleep and nonrestorative sleep, alcohol can cause other issues, including:

Vivid Dreams

Alcohol in your system often causes vivid, lucid, or unpleasant dreams. You often feel like you’re half-awake and the dreams may feel realistic.

Disruptive Sleep Disorders

As alcohol affects the central nervous system, you may experience disruptive sleep disorders called parasomnias. Common signs of parasomnias include screaming, kicking, sleep paralysis, sleepwalking, or nightmares.

Breathing Issues

Drinking alcohol has a sedative effect, relaxing the muscles in your airway. You may experience issues with breathing, snoring, or running the risk of sleep apnea, which is a potentially serious sleep disorder.

If you find yourself regularly needing alcohol to fall asleep, consider seeking treatment for substance abuse. With the right treatment and lifestyle changes, you can find other ways to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get a night of restorative sleep.

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