Why Can’t I Sleep When Hungover? Sleep Doctor Explains All

You probably can’t sleep when hungover because of hangover symptoms, dehydration, poor sleep hygiene, or being out of sync with your circadian rhythm.
Published
2024-03-22
12 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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Why Can’t I Sleep When Hungover? Reasons & How to Sleep

  • You might not be able to sleep when hungover due to hangover symptoms like a headache or anxiety, dehydration, poor sleep hygiene, or being out of sync with your body clock. 
  • Fall and stay asleep more easily, even when hungover, by hydrating throughout the day, improving your sleep hygiene — by getting light at the right times and not napping for too long or too late in the day, for example — and keeping a regular sleep schedule. 
  • The RISE app can help you sleep when hungover by guiding you through sleep hygiene habits and telling you when your body wants to sleep.

Sleepiness, nausea, a pounding headache. Most of us are familiar with the effects of alcohol the day after a big night out. 

When you’re hungover, all you want to do is sleep — and sleep can help your body recover. But sleeping when hungover doesn’t always come easy. 

Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take to help you sleep better.

Below, we’ll explain why you can’t sleep when hungover and how the RISE app can help you fall and stay asleep more easily — hungover or not.

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“If you’re struggling to sleep with a hangover, there may be a few factors to blame. A headache, nausea, or dehydration could keep you up, but so could poor sleep hygiene habits, such as too much light exposure before bed or too much caffeine during the day,” says Dr. Chester Wu, Rise Science sleep advisor and a double board certified doctor in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

“As hard as it feels when you’re hungover, try getting out in sunlight during the day and then avoid light in the run-up to bedtime for an easier time falling asleep. And even if you’re struggling to get through the day, try not to take too long of a nap or nap too close to bedtime. Nap no later than the mid-afternoon and for no longer than 90 minutes or so.”

Why Can’t I Sleep When Hungover? 

More research is needed, but you probably can’t sleep when hungover because of hangover symptoms like a headache or anxiety. Dehydration, social jet lag, poor sleep hygiene, changes to your sleep architecture causing lighter sleep, or being out of sync with your body clock are likely causes too.  

Here’s a little more info on those potential reasons: 

  • Hangover symptoms are disrupting your sleep: Hangover symptoms like a headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, sweating, or dizziness can make it harder to drift off or they may wake you up in the night. Research shows the more sleep deprived you are, the worse your hangover symptoms can be, so if you were out late last night, your hangover might be worse, disrupting your next night of sleep more. 
  • Hangxiety: Alongside physical hangover symptoms, you might be suffering from hangxiety. This is when you feel symptoms of anxiety or depression when hungover. You might feel guilty for binge drinking, regretful over staying out all night, or anxious because you drunk texted an ex. Alcohol can also cause or worsen anxiety in general as can sleep loss of any kind, including alcohol-induced sleep loss. And any type of anxiety or stress can make it hard to sleep. In fact, RISE users say stress and anxiety are their biggest barriers to sleep. 
  • Dehydration: Alcohol consumption can dehydrate you and research shows short sleep duration is linked with dehydration. On the flip side, you might have drunk a lot of water in an attempt to get rid of your hangover and now you’re waking up needing to use the bathroom throughout the night. 
  • Social jet lag: Social jetlag is when your body clock is out of sync with your social clock. It’s common — about 87% of us have social jetlag! You might have stayed up late drinking on Saturday night and now you’re trying to sleep early on Sunday night. This irregular sleep pattern makes it much harder to drift off when you want to. This is a form of circadian misalignment (more on that soon).
  • Poor sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene is the daily habits that impact your sleep. It’s easy to have poor sleep hygiene when hungover — perhaps you lounged on the sofa all day, so didn’t get much sunlight exposure or exercise, or you drank more caffeine than usual to get through the day. You may have also taken a long nap or napped too close to bedtime, and now you can’t fall asleep at bedtime. Outside of these hungover behaviors, you might have poor sleep hygiene habits anyway that make sleep harder to get.
  • Changes to sleep architecture: Sleep architecture is how your sleep is structured into stages of sleep. Alcohol (and any sleep deprivation you get from it) can change your sleep architecture, and this can make it hard to sleep. For example, research from 2024 shows a small amount of alcohol one hour before bed can suppress rapid-eye-movement sleep, or REM sleep. When your body next gets the chance — perhaps the second night after drinking when you’re hungover — it’ll get more REM sleep than usual to make up for what it lost out on. This is known as REM rebound. REM is lighter sleep, so you might wake up more often during the night. Learn how alcohol affects sleep here.
  • Existing circadian misalignment: This is when you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that dictates your sleep cycle. You can get out of sync when hungover — from staying up late or sleeping in later than usual, for example. But you might also be out of sync anyway, from an irregular sleep schedule or doing shift work. When you’re out of sync, you might not feel sleepy at bedtime or you might struggle to sleep through the night.

Struggling to sleep before the hangover hits too? We’ve covered why you can’t sleep after drinking alcohol here. 

Heads-up: If you’re a heavy drinker, you may find you can’t sleep without alcohol. You might have a day off alcohol and experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, sweating, and tremors alongside a potential hangover. All this can make it much harder to sleep. Seek medical advice if you think you’re suffering from alcohol abuse problems. 

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Does Alcohol Make You Tired Days Later? 

Yes, alcohol can make you tired days later by causing sleep loss and circadian misalignment. You might have trouble sleeping after drinking alcohol, or sleeping with a hangover, and so you build up sleep debt. If you don’t catch up on sleep, lingering sleep debt can make you feel tired days after you had a drink.

You might also feel tired days after drinking alcohol due to social jetlag as you’ve disrupted your circadian rhythm and not gotten back in sync with it. Research shows those with a regular sleep pattern feel less sleepy than those without a regular sleep pattern — even when both groups get the same amount of sleep.

How to Sleep When Hungover? 

You can sleep better when hungover by drinking water, treating hangover symptoms, improving your sleep hygiene — focus on making your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet and getting light at the right times — and maintaining a regular sleep schedule to keep your body clock in check. 

Here are the key steps to sleeping better when hungover. 

Hydrate During the Day 

Drink plenty of water during the day to rehydrate after drinking alcohol. Cut yourself off from all drinks at least two hours before bed. This should minimize the need for middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. 

Treat Hangover Symptoms 

Unfortunately, there’s no golden hangover cure. Different hangover symptoms need different treatments. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen can help a headache whereas bland, plain foods can help settle an uneasy stomach. 

Avoid sleeping pills or any kind of sleep aid like over-the-counter sleep supplements, melatonin, and a red wine nightcap. They may help you drift off initially, but you’re getting manufactured sleep, not natural sleep, and there’s a risk of side effects and long-term health problems. And “hair of the dog,” a so-called hangover remedy in which you drink more alcohol, won’t cure your hangover and can make your sleep problems worse. 

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene 

As hard as it is when you’re feeling worse for wear, try to maintain good sleep hygiene the day after a night of drinking. 

That means: 

RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits at the right time for your circadian rhythm to make them even more effective.

RISE app screenshot showing sleep hygiene habit reminders
The RISE app can guide you through daily sleep hygiene behaviors.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here

Prepare Your Bedroom for Sleep 

This sleep hygiene behavior is key when hungover. 

Before you get into bed, make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet to drift off more easily and minimize sleep disruptions. This is important every night, but especially when hungover when you might be more sensitive to light or be feeling a little more sweaty and warm than usual. 

Sync Up With Your Circadian Rhythm 

Try to keep as regular a sleep schedule as possible to stay in sync with your circadian rhythm and sleep better, both when hungover and in the nights after. 

The good news is research on mice shows syncing up with your circadian rhythm may also help you recover from the hangover.

To do this, try not to oversleep too much the morning after drinking and avoid going to sleep several hours earlier than usual. This is why a short (<90 minutes) well-timed nap (if you can fall asleep) is a great way to pay back some sleep debt when hungover without disrupting your circadian rhythm.

Check RISE to see when your body naturally wants to wake up and go to sleep and aim to stay within an hour or so of your usual sleep schedule. Getting a little extra sleep may be best in this case to help you pay back sleep debt and recover quicker from the hangover.

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Do a Sleep Reset 

If you can’t sleep after about 20 minutes, get up and do a sleep reset. This involves going to a different room and doing a relaxing activity, such as reading, gentle yoga, or NSDR.

Do this in low lighting and try not to get stressed about not being able to sleep. 

When you feel sleepy again, crawl back into bed. 

We’ve covered more on how to stop alcohol insomnia here.

Expert tip: Lower your sleep debt to feel and perform better, both when hungover and any day of the week. 

Sleep debt is how much sleep you owe your body. After a night of heavy drinking, you’ve probably built up quite a bit of sleep debt. 

The more sleep debt you have, the more tired you’ll feel. And you might feel tired days after the hangover fades as you’re still carrying sleep debt. 

You can lower your sleep debt by: 

  • Heading to bed a little earlier
  • Sleeping in a little later 
  • Taking short afternoon naps (a longer nap up to 90 minutes might be needed)
  • Improving your sleep hygiene (so you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night, leading to more sleep overall)  

RISE can work out how much sleep debt you have and keep track as you pay it back.

For more context, sleep debt is measured against your sleep need. This is the amount of hours of sleep you need each night — a number that’s based on genetics and varies from person to person. 

Among 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and older, sleep needs ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes.

RISE works out your sleep need, too, so you know what to aim for each night. 

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need.
The sleep needs of RISE users.

 RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can view their sleep need here and view their sleep debt here.

How to Sleep With Hangover Anxiety? 

If you’re suffering from hangover anxiety (aka hangxiety), try spending more time winding down before bed. Do relaxing activities like reading, listening to a podcast, doing some gentle yoga, or doing a brain dump (writing down your worries). This helps you unwind, so you can crawl into bed feeling calmer. 

Breathing exercises and relaxation techniques can also help get you out of fight-or-flight mode, and they’re a good distraction for when anxious thoughts pop up when you’re lying in bed. 

We’ve covered more on how to sleep with anxiety here. Check out RISE’s guided relaxation and breathing exercises to get started and the app’s brain dump feature, which’ll remind you of everything you write down the next morning, so you won’t forget anything important. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can go right to their relaxation audio guide homepage and get started here.

Will Sleeping Help a Hangover?

Yes, sleeping can help a hangover by helping you catch up on sleep. Sleep can reduce hangover symptoms like a headache, nausea, anxiety, and sleepiness. But sleep may not cure a hangover altogether. 

When you’re hungover, you’re probably sleep deprived — this can be from a late night, the poor sleep alcohol causes, or a combination of the two. So catching up on sleep can help boost your energy, performance, and mood. 

But you want to catch up on sleep in the right way. You don’t want to snooze until noon the next morning or take a three-hour nap. This can mess up your circadian rhythm and may make it harder to sleep the following night. 

Instead, keep as regular a sleep schedule as possible and chip away at your sleep debt slowly over the course of a few days. 

Sleep in for an hour or so the next day (maximum two hours), head to bed an hour or so earlier than usual, or take an afternoon nap that’s no longer than 90 minutes. 

We’ve got more advice on how to catch up on sleep here.

How Long Does it Take to Sleep Off a Hangover? 

There’s no set time it takes to sleep off a hangover. Catching up on any lost sleep can help ease hangover symptoms, but getting extra sleep isn’t a guaranteed cure. Plus, you don’t want to sleep in too late or take too long of a nap that you mess up your circadian rhythm and struggle to sleep that night.  

Try sleeping in an hour or so later, taking a 90-minute mid-afternoon nap, or heading to bed an hour or so earlier to help you sleep off a hangover. 

Is it Better to Stay Awake When Hungover? 

It might be better to stay awake when hungover depending on when you’re thinking about sleeping and how long you’re thinking about sleeping for. Getting extra shut-eye can help you catch up on sleep and recover from a hangover, but you don’t want to nap for too long too close to bedtime, sleep in too late, or go to bed too early, that you mess up your circadian rhythm and struggle to sleep later that night. 

Our advice is to sleep in for an hour or so (or up to two hours if needed), take a 90-minute mid-afternoon, or head to bed an hour or so earlier than usual to get extra sleep when hungover.

Will a Nap Help a Hangover?

Yes, a nap can help a hangover by helping you catch up on lost sleep. Limit naps to 90 minutes and no later than the afternoon or you may struggle to sleep that night. This may extend your hangover and cause more sleepless nights. 

Check RISE for your afternoon dip in energy. This is the ideal time to get some extra shut-eye during the day.

RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and dips
The RISE app can predict when your energy will dip in the afternoon.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can see their upcoming energy peaks and dips on the Energy screen here.  

Don’t Let a Hangover Keep You Up 

Getting a good night’s sleep can help you recover from a hangover and the lack of sleep alcohol can cause. But sleeping while hungover can feel impossible due to hangover symptoms, poor sleep hygiene, or being out of sync with your circadian rhythm. 

RISE makes falling and staying asleep easier. The app guides you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits, predicts the timing of your circadian rhythm so you can sync up, and helps you pay back sleep debt, so you can get back to feeling your best. 

RISE also helps you get your sleep back on track in the days following a hangover:

“I’ve used this app for years and I love it. It always helps me reset my sleep schedule when I get off the wagon too long.” Read the review.

Even if you’re not hungover, you can improve your nights — 80% of users get better sleep within five days.

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