Alcohol use can impact the quality of your sleep, and research confirms there’s a link between alcohol use and insomnia.

Many of us find ourselves tossing and turning at night, trying to get that elusive 7 to 8 hours of sleep experts say we need but never finding it.

If you’re turning to alcohol to help you sleep, you may be making the quality of your sleep worse.

Healthy sleep is essential for your well-being. It’s just as important as a nutritious diet and regular exercise. While you snooze, many parts of your body get a chance to reset.

But what if you have trouble falling and staying asleep? Can alcohol help you get a good night’s sleep?

Though alcohol can have a sedative effect, it has also been linked to sleep disorders like insomnia. If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, alcohol consumption could be a contributing factor.

Drinking alcohol can affect the quality and length of your sleep, leading to sleep disorders — such as insomnia and sleep apnea — in some.

This happens because alcohol disrupts sleep cycles.

When you fall asleep, your mind journeys through a series of events that repeat in cycles. There are four stages of sleep that cycle in a 7- to 8-hour sleeping period:

  • Stage 1 (N1): A non-REM sleep phase that occurs within the first 1 to 7 minutes of nodding off. You might may still be somewhat alert, but your heart rate and breathing begin to slow down.
  • Stage 2 (N2): A non-REM sleep phase that lasts for roughly 25 minutes and idles somewhere between light and deep sleep. During this time, there’s a burst of electrical activity in the brain.
  • Stage 3 (N3): A deeper level of non-REM sleep where brain waves slow down. This causes physical activity, such as eye movement and muscle activity, to decrease. Lasting for 20 to 40 minutes, this stage is where many vital body functions occur, including tissue repair. This is the point in the sleep cycle where waking is the most difficult and you may feel groggy if woken abruptly.
  • Stage 4 (REM): REM stands for rapid eye movement. The REM stage can last between 10 minutes and one hour. It’s an essential stage for long-term memory storage and it may be when dreaming occurs.

These four stages make up a sleep cycle that lasts for roughly 90 minutes. In a typical night’s sleep, you may go through four to six sleep cycles.

Following alcohol consumption, REM sleep is inhibited.

Alcohol can increase the quantity of non-REM sleep during the first half of the night, but it decreases REM sleep in the second half.

During the final hours of sleep when alcohol is metabolized by the body, it can have a disruptive effect on sleep, causing frequent waking and fragmented sleep. Ultimately, alcohol can decrease the amount and quality of sleep you get.

Alcohol is a somnogen — a substance that induces sleepiness. It can have a relaxing effect, but research shows that too much alcohol can lead to a lack of sleep or insomnia.

The link between alcohol consumption and sleep impairment is especially prominent among older adults. Researchers discourage older adults — particularly men — from using alcohol as a sleep aid.

Older men who consume alcohol are more likely to have a worse sleep profile, characterized by waking tired and waking several times during the night.

The effects of alcohol on sleep continue into the day. Sleep deprivation due to alcohol consumption can exacerbate performance impairment and daytime sleepiness.

Consuming alcohol and experiencing restricted sleep reduces alertness during the day.

Will a small amount of alcohol affect my sleep?

The effects of alcohol usually increase as you consume more. However, even small amounts of alcohol can have noticeable effects in some people.

Consuming two servings of alcohol per day for men and one serving for women can reduce sleep quality by 9.3%.

Is insomnia a side effect of alcohol?

Alcohol can have a sedative or stimulant effect depending on the dose and the time between drinking and bedtime. Some people who drink frequently develop a tolerance to the sedative effects of alcohol.

Dependence on alcohol is associated with a higher rate of sleep disturbance and insomnia. An estimated 36% to 67% of people with alcohol dependency experience insomnia.

How do I get a good night’s sleep after drinking?

If you’re worried that drinking in social situations or having a glass of wine with your dinner will impede your chances of getting a good night’s rest, here are some tips to improve your sleep:

  • Practice meditation and mindfulness. Training the brain and body to relax can help alleviate stress and anxiety, which may help improve sleep problems that are sometimes managed with alcohol use.
  • Limit alcohol consumption in the evenings. Late afternoon drinking or drinking within 6 hours of bedtime can disrupt sleep.
  • Improve sleep hygiene. Setting and sticking to a regular sleep schedule can improve sleeping patterns over time. It may be helpful to try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day. This helps reinforce the circadian rhythm.
  • Limit screen time at night. The blue light emitted from your devices may interfere with your natural sleep-wake cycle. In the hours before bedtime, exposure to screens may make it more difficult to fall asleep and feel rested in the morning. Consider reading a book before bed to minimize screen time.
  • Take natural sleep supplements. If insomnia is keeping you awake and you rely on alcohol to help you fall asleep, natural sleep supplements may be a helpful alternative. Melatonin, GABA, CBD, valerian root, and L-theanine are commonly used to improve insomnia and disrupted sleep.

Does alcohol help you sleep?

Being a sedative and depressant of the central nervous system, alcohol can increase feelings of tiredness and sluggishness. One of the side effects of alcohol is drowsiness, so it can make you fall asleep quickly.

Some people may resort to drinking alcohol as a sleep aid or agent that initiates sleep.

While alcohol can help you fall asleep, it does not help you stay asleep during the later hours of the night. It may increase the likelihood of waking up in the middle of the night, resulting in grogginess the next morning.

Drinking in moderation is generally considered safe. However, everyone responds to alcohol differently. Alcohol has been shown to negatively impact sleep, but this comes down to the individual.

Though alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it can disrupt the important REM stage of your sleep cycle, leading to lack of sleep or sleep disorders like insomnia.

If you’re experiencing disrupted sleep due to alcohol use, these resources may be helpful:

If you think you may have a sleep problem or disorder, consider taking our brief sleep quiz to find out. Remember that only a healthcare professional or sleep specialist can diagnose a sleep condition.