Although alcohol sometimes helps to induce sleep, drinking alcohol actually prevents you from getting a full night’s rest. The effects of alcohol last longer than you might think. Drinking in the afternoon can interfere with your sleep that night. Moderation and timing are keys to minimizing the sleep-robbing effects of alcohol.
Not a sleep enhancer
Alcohol is frequently used as a sleep aid. Estimates vary, but as many as 15 percent of people may use alcohol to help them sleep. Among people with insomnia, that number is estimated to be significantly higher. While it’s true that alcohol can help relax you so you drift off to sleep, it ultimately gets in the way of good night’s rest by interrupting your normal sleep patterns.
Changes to the body
As the alcohol you’ve consumed metabolizes into sugar, rising glucose levels can cause wakefulness, fragmenting your sleep. Since alcohol causes dehydration, you may also find yourself awake due to extreme thirst.
Yet another cause of interrupted sleep is a full bladder, thanks to alcohol’s diuretic effects. With all of alcohol’s negative effects on your body, it’s easy to see why you’re likely to find yourself awake a few hours after going to bed if you’ve been drinking.
Effects that linger for hours
On average, it takes about one hour to metabolize one drink but the effects described above can linger much longer, depending on your weight, gender, and health.
Even if plenty of time has passed between the afternoon “happy hour” and your bedtime, chances are your sleep will be fragmented and you’ll wake up frequently. Evidence suggests alcohol produces changes in the body’s mechanism of sleep regulation, including alterations to normal periods of deep sleep and REM sleep, the two most restorative sleep phases.
Drinking and snoring
Alcohol can also increase the symptoms of sleep apnea and snoring because it relaxes the muscles of the upper airway. So not only does the person who had a few drinks lose sleep, so does his or her sleep partner!
The morning after
Don’t forget what it feels like the “morning after” you’ve indulged. Since you didn’t get a good night’s sleep and you’re probably dehydrated as well, you can’t expect to look or feel your best the next day. The more alcohol you consume, the worse these effects may be.
Habitual sleep problems
If alcohol consumption becomes a habit, its sleep-inducing effect can decrease, while its disruptive effects can increase. With regular drinking, sleep problems and daytime fatigue can become persistent.
The evidence is clear: even though many of us believe alcohol works like the sandman, it’s really an enemy of sleep.
So, remember, for a really good snooze, you might want to skip the booze.