Skip the nightcap. The key to a good night’s sleep is an alcohol-free evening.

We’ve all been there. It’s been a tough few days, so you pour a glass of wine or make a cocktail to relax and calm your nerves. Another drink or two later, it’s time for bed. And even though you fall asleep in the blink of an eye, you toss and turn all night, arising the next morning a little worse for wear. 

The culprit? The alcohol you drank the previous night. What a lot of people don’t realize is even as little as two glasses of wine or a couple of beers before bedtime is a major disruptor of quality sleep. 

We spoke to Dr. Angela Holliday-Bell, a certified clinical sleep health specialist to better understand the relationship between alcohol and sleep and how to ensure you’re getting much-needed slumber.  

Dr. Holiday-Bell HeadshotDr. Angela Holliday-Bell is a board-certified physician, certified clinical sleep specialist, and sleep coach. Her sleep blog has been featured as one of the top 50 blogs in sleep and she has contributed to a number of online and print publications. She is the founder and CEO of her sleep coaching company The Solution is Sleep LLC, which she created to help people everywhere live happier, healthier, and more productive lives through better sleep.

Read more: How Sleep Affects Metabolic Health

Light Coming Through Bedroom

What a lot of people don’t realize is even as little as two glasses of wine or a couple of beers before bedtime is a major disruptor of quality sleep. Photo courtesy of Twenty20.

1.
What impact does alcohol have on quality sleep?

Dr. AHB: Alcohol tends to be disruptive to sleep and has a negative impact on sleep quality. It has the most impact on REM or dream sleep and it generally leads to middle of the night and early morning wakings.

 
2.
Are certain sleep disorders associated with frequent consumption or overindulgence of alcohol?

Dr. AHB: I am not aware of any sleep disorders that are directly caused by alcohol overconsumption. However, drinking too much alcohol before bed can precipitate obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is because alcohol impairs certain aspects of respiration needed to overcome airway occlusion that causes OSA. 

 
3.
Why do we often wake up feeling less rested after a night of drinking but tend to fall asleep faster?

Dr. AHB: Alcohol initially acts as a sedative that makes it easier to fall asleep. The problem is that it’s metabolized by the body very quickly, usually within one to three hours — and those metabolites become activating. 

So after the alcohol is broken down, it makes you feel more alert, leading to middle of the night and early morning wakings. 

 
4.
Does the amount of alcohol you consume matter for quality sleep?

Dr. AHB: The amount of alcohol does make a difference in how much your sleep will be affected, with more sleep disruption occurring with the more alcohol you consume. One glass of wine may not have very much of an effect on sleep, while a few glasses or multiple shots of hard liquor will likely be more disruptive. 

Person Holding Glass of Water

One glass of wine may not have very much of an effect on sleep, while a few glasses or multiple shots of hard liquor will likely be more disruptive. Photo courtesy of Twenty20.

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5.
What about the type of alcohol? Does wine affect sleep more than say beer or liquor?

Dr. AHB: The type of alcohol is not as important as the percentage of alcohol and the quantity of the drink. The more you drink and the higher the concentration of alcohol, the more it will disrupt your sleep. 

 
6.
Is it possible to limit the effect of alcohol on sleep by consuming it a certain number of hours before bed?

Dr. AHB: You can definitely limit the effects of alcohol on your sleep by adjusting the time you consume it. I generally recommend not consuming alcohol within three to four hours of your bedtime. 

 
7.
What alternatives to alcohol do you suggest for someone who wants to destress before bed?

Dr. AHB: Instead of alcohol, I recommend engaging in a soothing and relaxing bedtime routine. You can do things like take a hot shower, read a book, listen to soothing music, or do a sleep meditation. All of these things help promote relaxation and lead to deeper, better quality sleep. 

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