Drinking alcohol before bed is a common occurrence for many of us. We might enjoy a glass of wine in front of the TV at the end of a long day, grab a beer (or two) with friends on Friday nights, or turn to an alcoholic drink to help us start feeling sleepy in the evenings.
But, alcohol has the power to seriously mess up your sleep — which, of course, can mess up your energy levels, mood, and performance the next day. Not to mention your mental and physical health long-term.
Luckily, you don’t need to give up your favorite tipples altogether. You just need to get smart with how — and more importantly when — you drink it before bed.
Below, we’ll dive into how alcohol affects your sleep, when you should stop drinking it before bed, and how you can still enjoy a drink and a good night’s sleep. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app uses your own biology to tell you the best time to stop drinking — and the best time to stop a whole host of other sleep-disrupting behaviors.
The sleepy feeling you get after a glass of wine isn’t in your head. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and it slows down your brain activity. It acts as a sedative and it can lead to decreased sleep onset latency — the time it takes to fall asleep. Don’t be fooled, though. This doesn’t make it a good sleep aid.
Alcohol has many negative effects on your sleep. And the more you drink, the more sleep is disrupted. Here’s what happens to your body when you drink alcohol before bed.
Sleep architecture is how you move through sleep cycles during the night. During a healthy night’s sleep, we cycle through three stages of non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep — stage 1, stage 2 also called light sleep, and stage 3 also called deep sleep or slow-wave sleep — and one stage of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep.
When you drink alcohol close to bedtime, your sleep architecture is impacted. You spend more time in deep sleep in the first half of the night. This might sound like a good thing, but it comes at the cost of the other sleep stages — which are just as important to your health and everyday functioning.
REM sleep is suppressed and it takes your body longer to reach the first REM sleep stage. You might get less REM sleep in the first half of the night, or across the night as a whole. REM is the stage of sleep known for being when you dream, but it’s also important for memory consolidation, brain development, regulating emotions, creativity, and pain response.
In fact, one study found even a moderate serving of alcohol before bedtime impacted REM sleep, which resulted in reduced memory of a recently learned task.
When you don’t get enough REM sleep one night, you might experience REM rebound the next time you go to sleep. This is when your body spends more time in REM to make up for the lack of it the night before, meaning your sleep architecture is yet again changed.
When your sleep patterns are impacted like this, the sleep you do get isn’t the healthy naturalistic sleep that’s best for your health and energy levels. And when sleep architecture is impacted over multiple nights, your daytime energy and performance are, too.
Drinking alcohol before bed may help you fall asleep faster, but you pay the price for it later in the night. And in low doses, alcohol can even act as a stimulant within the first hour of drinking it, keeping you awake for longer. When it does make you feel sleepy, the sedating effect wears off and in the second half of the night, you can experience more nighttime awakenings and more light sleep.
This can lead to a vicious circle if you don’t get the restorative sleep you need.
One paper states:
“This pattern of initial sleep augmentation followed by a period of poor quality sleep can lead to a downward spiral, with insomnia being self-treated with alcohol to produce a rapid sleep onset, subsequent poor sleep then leading to daytime sleepiness that is self-treated with caffeine, which exacerbates insomnia, requiring more alcohol to fall asleep, etc.”
You can also develop a tolerance to the sleepiness effects of alcohol, causing you to consume more to get the same effects. The sedating effects may diminish in as little as three days of continued use.
However, you may not even notice that alcohol is waking you up. This effect is called retrograde amnesia and it’s the reason you don’t remember the minutes before falling asleep or the sub 10-minute microwakenings we all get during the night even without alcohol. But when we don’t remember waking up, it reinforces the idea that alcohol helps, not harms, our sleep.
Alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning it increases urination. This may cause you to wake up needing to use the bathroom throughout the night, causing even more sleep loss.
And alcohol ups your odds of night sweats, too, meaning you may wake up in a hot flush or drenched in sweat — not exactly a recipe for restful sleep.
Binge drinking has also been linked to insomnia. One study among those 50 and older found those who binged more than two days a week had 64% increased odds of insomnia. Those who binged two times or less a week still had 35% greater odds of insomnia than non-binge drinkers.
Alcohol relaxes the muscles in your throat, which can either cause you to start snoring or make your existing snoring worse than usual.
Beyond snoring, higher levels of alcohol consumption can increase your risk of sleep apnea by 25%, or it can cause it to get worse. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition that causes your airways to collapse, meaning you temporarily stop breathing throughout the night. Alcohol makes this especially worse when drunk close to bedtime.
As well as disturbing anyone you share a bed with, snoring and sleep apnea can both lead to sleep loss and lowered daytime energy. And sleep apnea can also lead to serious health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
We covered how to know if you have sleep apnea here.
Alcohol causes sleep issues even when you drink it every now and again, but things can be worse for those with alcohol addiction.
Speak to a healthcare professional if you think you have a problem with alcohol use to get help cutting down or quitting.
We’ve covered other ways alcohol can impact your sleep here.
When your sleep is impacted, almost everything else in life is impacted, too.
When you wake up often during the night, it makes it harder to meet your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night. This causes you to start building up sleep debt, the amount of sleep you owe your body.
With high sleep debt, everything from your energy levels to your physical and mental health take a hit. Meaning if you’re turning to alcohol as a sleep aid, it’s actually having the opposite effect on your sleep than you’re looking for. And even if you don’t use it as a sleep aid, drinking too close to bedtime can be impacting you more at night and the next day than you think.
Even in well-rested people, alcohol has been shown to lower next-day alertness and performance after an evening of drinking.
The RISE app can work out your individual sleep need and how much sleep debt you’re carrying. We recommend keeping this below five hours to optimize your energy levels and performance each day.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.
You may not have to give up drinking altogether to get a good night’s sleep. You just need to avoid it in the run-up to bedtime. But how long before bed should you stop drinking alcohol exactly?
Unfortunately, there’s no one answer, and how alcohol affects your sleep depends on:
In general, it’s recommended you avoid alcohol three to four hours before bed. This will give your body enough time to metabolize the alcohol and clear it from your system, reducing your chances of disrupted sleep.
If you’re drinking large amounts of alcohol, you may want to cut yourself off earlier. But even in low doses, alcohol can have a stimulating effect within the first hour of consuming it, meaning a small drink before bed could keep you awake.
In one study, participants consumed a moderate dose of vodka over a 30-minute window and stopped drinking one hour before bed. Two hours 20 minutes later, their melatonin levels were down 15%, and three hours 10 minutes later, melatonin levels were down 19%.
Melatonin primes your body for sleep. You can learn more about what melatonin does here.
There’s even some research to show that stopping drinking three to four hours before bed may not be enough. Drinking six hours before bedtime can disrupt your sleep, despite alcohol no longer being in your brain. One small study found a moderate dose of alcohol consumed six hours before bed caused a reduction in sleep efficiency, total sleep time, light sleep, and REM sleep. Plus, wakefulness doubled in the second half of the night in those who drank alcohol compared to those who drank water.
To take the guesswork out of it, turn to the RISE app to find out your individual alcohol cutoff time. This is the time of day you should stop drinking alcohol to give your body enough time to metabolize it before bedtime.
RISE works out your alcohol cutoff time based on your circadian rhythm, your body’s roughly 24-hour internal body clock which dictates things like your sleep-wake cycle, when your body produces certain hormones, and when your body temperature fluctuates.
As part of your circadian rhythm, there’s a time of night when your body’s rate of melatonin production will be at its highest. We call this roughly one-hour window of time your Melatonin Window. Melatonin helps you sleep, so going to bed during your Melatonin Window will help you fall and stay asleep.
The timing of the window can change depending on the previous night’s sleep times. RISE tracks all of this, predicts your Melatonin Window, and tells you the ideal time to have your last alcoholic drink.
As a default, RISE will tell you — and send a notification if you want an extra nudge — to avoid alcohol four hours before your Melatonin Window each night. But you can opt to get this reminder closer to or further away from your Melatonin Window.
For example, you might want to be notified six hours before your Melatonin Window if you want to further reduce the risk of sleep disruption or if you know you’ll be drinking a lot that day.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late alcohol reminder.
There’s not much research into whether different types of alcohol affect your sleep differently.
One study found beer, but not wine or hard liquor, was linked to mild or worse sleep-disordered breathing in men. This may be because people who tend to drink beer tend to drink more in general than those who drink wine or hard liquor, though, or because more people in the study drank beer, so it was easier to find links compared to other alcoholic drinks.
Some drinks may impact you more based on what’s in them, however. For example, sugary cocktails can spike your blood sugar and lead to a sugar crash. And anything with caffeine, like an espresso martini or spirits mixed with energy drinks, will keep you awake through the caffeine.
Want a drink with dinner? A non-alcoholic beer may be your best bet. Drinking one non-alcoholic beer during dinner has been shown to improve subjective sleep quality and decrease how long it takes to fall asleep, which may be thanks to the sedating effects of hops.
While we don’t know much about how beer, wine, and spirits affect your sleep differently, we do know the more you drink, the more your sleep is disrupted.
One study found low, moderate, and high doses of alcohol all impacted the recovery sleep can provide, but the higher the dose, the more recovery was impacted.
Surprisingly, alcohol suppressed recovery similarly for men and women and for physically active and sedentary participants, but alcohol affected younger people more than older people and those with a lower baseline sleep heart rate (usually indicating better cardiovascular fitness) than those with a higher sleep heart rate.
It’s not just what’s in your drinks or how much you’re drinking that could be impacting your sleep. The behaviors that often go hand in hand with drinking can also disrupt your nights.
Beyond smoking, while drinking you may also be getting bright light exposure — either while watching TV or in a brightly lit bar — or eating a late-night meal or unhealthy snacks. You may even have caffeine if you’re partial to an espresso martini. But bright light, caffeine, and smoking can all disrupt your sleep further.
If you smoke cannabis or take CBD as well, you may find it harder for you to fall asleep or wake up more often in the night.
Want to dive into these more? We’ve covered:
As well as reminding you when to stop drinking alcohol, RISE can let you know the best time to finish up your last large meal and coffee for the day, and when to dim the lights.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up personalized reminders to avoid bright light, meals, and caffeine.
Don’t want to give up booze altogether? Here’s how to enjoy alcohol and a good night’s sleep.
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene behaviors and tell you the exact time to do them based on your circadian rhythm to make them more effective.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Used to turning to a nightcap to feel sleepy each night? Here’s how to wind down for bed without alcohol.
All of these behaviors are part of healthy sleep hygiene, which can act as a natural, healthy sleep aid, so you don’t need to turn to alcohol to feel sleepy.
It may sound counterintuitive, but that nightcap that’s making you feel sleepy is actually disrupting your sleep, waking you up in the night, increasing your odds of sleep apnea, and changing your sleep architecture — all of which lead to not feeling your best the next day.
You don’t have to avoid alcohol altogether to get better sleep, however. In general, stop drinking alcohol three to four hours before bed to give your body enough time to get it out of your system. You can check the RISE app for your individual alcohol cutoff time each day for a more accurate time.
To maximize your sleep — and therefore your next-day energy levels and performance — check RISE for when to stop other sleep-disrupting behaviors like getting bright light, consuming caffeine and large meals, and doing intense exercise.
As a general rule, you should stop drinking alcohol about three to four hours before bed to give your body enough time to get it out of your system so it doesn’t disrupt your sleep. You can use the RISE app to find a more accurate time to stop drinking alcohol based on your body clock, which can change each day.
Yes, it can be bad to drink alcohol before bed. Even though it makes you feel sleepy, alcohol can cause you to wake up more often during the night, make your snoring worse, suppress your REM sleep, and increase your odds of sleep apnea and insomnia. This can all lead to lower energy and performance the next day.
In low doses, alcohol can act as a stimulant within the first hour of drinking it. Alcohol also decreases your levels of the sleep hormone melatonin. Sugary drinks or anything containing caffeine can make you feel more alert and you may also be getting late-night light exposure or eating large meals, which can also make it harder to fall asleep.
Any amount of alcohol before bed can have an impact on your sleep. In low doses, it can be stimulating and a moderate amount can decrease your levels of the sleep hormone melatonin. It’s best to stop drinking three to four hours before bed, or check the RISE app for your individual alcohol cutoff time, based on the timing of your body clock.
One glass of wine can affect your sleep. Low doses of alcohol have been shown to make sleep less restorative and can be stimulating. Alcohol can cause you to wake up more often during the night, make your snoring worse, and reduce how much REM sleep you get.
Caffeine can last in your system for up to 12 hours, but this all depends on genetics, age, metabolism, and how much caffeine you have. The RISE app can work out your individual caffeine cutoff time, or the ideal time to stop drinking coffee each day based on your body clock.
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