12 Sleep Doctor-Approved Ways to Stop Alcohol Insomnia

For casual drinkers, you can stop alcohol insomnia by cutting down and avoiding alcohol three to four hours before bed and improving your overall sleep hygiene.
Published
2024-03-26
14 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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How to Stop Alcohol Insomnia in Casual and Problem Drinkers: Why It Happens and What to Do 

  • For casual drinkers, stop alcohol insomnia by avoiding alcohol at least three to four hours before bed, cutting down on how much you drink, and improving your overall sleep hygiene. 
  • For those with alcohol abuse problems, stop alcohol insomnia by quitting alcohol (get expert advice on how best to do this), trying cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, and improving your sleep hygiene. 
  • The RISE app can help on the sleep hygiene front. RISE walks you through 20+ sleep hygiene behaviors to help you fall asleep faster and sleep through the night. This is key to a good night’s sleep whether you’re drinking or not.

A glass of wine with dinner seems harmless enough until you’re tossing and turning in bed later that night unable to sleep. And sleep problems can get even worse the more you drink.

There are ways to stop alcohol from messing with your sleep, though. And, as long as you don’t have an alcohol use problem, you may not have to give up drinking altogether. 

Below, we’ll dive into how to stop alcohol insomnia with help from the RISE app, how long alcohol sleep problems last, and why alcohol causes sleep loss in the first place.

Heads-up: How you stop alcohol insomnia will depend on whether you have an alcohol abuse problem or you’re a casual drinker. It’ll also depend on whether you have clinical insomnia or sleep problems that look like insomnia. We’ll cover advice for each of these situations.

FYI, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine definition of clinical insomnia is when you have:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Difficulty sleeping despite the opportunity to sleep
  • Daytime impairment
  • Having these sleep problems at least three nights a week for at least three months (chronic insomnia) or under three months (short-term or acute insomnia)
  • No other sleep disorders, medical conditions, medications, or substance use disorders (which include alcohol abuse problems) causing these problems

This topic can be complex, especially since insomnia resulting from an alcohol abuse problem is still classified as insomnia. However, it is known as 'secondary insomnia,' defined as insomnia attributable to a specific medical, psychiatric, or substance use disorder. In this article, we refer to this type of secondary insomnia as 'alcohol insomnia.' On the other hand, 'primary insomnia' refers to a condition where the underlying causes of secondary insomnia have been ruled out. Going forward, we refer to primary insomnia as 'clinical insomnia.' (Note: there is ongoing debate on the validity of the primary insomnia vs secondary insomnia classification but this distinction is helpful to describe the different treatment paths necessary to address sleeping problems arising from different causes.)

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“If you’re a casual drinker who struggles to sleep after a few drinks, there are some simple steps you can take to sleep better,” says Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, who’s double board certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

“Try to avoid alcohol at least three to four hours before bed and cut down on how much you drink. If you still experience sleep problems, improving your sleep hygiene can help. This can reduce the chances of other sleep disruptors, outside of alcohol, impacting your sleep. Start by getting out in sunlight in the morning and avoiding light before bed.”

How to Stop Alcohol Insomnia?

Those with an alcohol abuse problem can stop alcohol insomnia by speaking to a doctor about quitting alcohol, trying cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, improving sleep hygiene, and considering sleep aids, if appropriate. 

If you have alcohol use issues, you may experience insomnia when drinking, during withdrawal, and months or years after going sober. And insomnia may increase your risk of relapse when you quit drinking. But there are steps you can take to improve your sleep. 

More research is needed to find the best treatments. But here’s more on how those with alcohol abuse problems can fix alcohol insomnia: 

Get Help Quitting Drinking

Your first step is to reach out to a healthcare provider to get help giving up alcohol. Research shows giving up or cutting down on alcohol can improve alcohol insomnia symptoms.

Going sober isn’t always easy, though, and it may not be safe to quit alcohol cold turkey. Slowly cutting down can reduce the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, too, which can help avoid relapse. 

A doctor can talk you through a treatment program to help, such as therapy, medication, or support groups.

They can also suggest the best ways to manage withdrawal symptoms, which can include sweating, anxiety, vomiting, and tremors — all of which can impact sleep. 

You may also require separate treatments for alcohol insomnia and alcohol dependency. 

Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)

CBT-I is a first-line treatment for insomnia, both in those with and without alcohol use disorder. CBT-I usually involves a mixture of sleep hygiene education (more on that next), supervised sleep restriction, and stimulus control (when you only go to bed when sleepy and get out of bed if you can’t sleep after 20 to 30 minutes).

A 2019 study found eight weeks of CBT-I reduced insomnia in veterans recovering from alcohol dependence. 

Another study found seven weeks of CBT-I improved sleep efficiency (the time spent sleeping while in bed), awakenings, and time to fall asleep in recovering alcoholics with insomnia. 

But both studies found CBT-I didn’t help prevent relapse, so you may need further treatments and support for this. 

Speak to a healthcare professional to get started with CBT-I. They may recommend different treatments for different types of insomnia.

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene may not solve your sleep problems immediately or alone, but it is a key component of CBT-I that’s worth making a part of your daily routine.  

What is it exactly? Sleep hygiene is the name for the behaviors that impact your sleep. Poor sleep hygiene can make your sleep problems worse, alongside any alcohol-related sleep issues. 

Improve your sleep hygiene by getting out in sunlight each morning, avoiding light and stimulants like caffeine too close to bedtime, and keeping a regular sleep schedule. 

RISE can tell you when to do 20+ good sleep habits at the time that’ll make them most effective for you. 

RISE app screenshot showing sleep hygiene habit reminders
The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene behaviors.

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

Consider Sleep Aids if Appropriate

A doctor or sleep specialist can let you know if sleep medication could help your alcohol insomnia. 

More research is needed into the best sleep aids for those with alcohol abuse problems, though. 

Benzodiazepines may help sleep problems during withdrawal, which can help you avoid relapse. But they may not be prescribed beyond this as there’s a risk of side effects like withdrawal, rebound insomnia, addiction, and overdose when mixed with alcohol. 

Other medications may help those with severe symptoms or psychiatric problems. 

A doctor can also test you for sleep disorders and medical conditions that may be messing with your sleep beyond alcohol use. 

Heads-up: You may still struggle to sleep without alcohol even if you don’t have an alcohol addiction. We’ve covered why you can’t sleep without alcohol here. 

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How Do You Stop Alcohol from Disrupting Your Sleep? 

For casual drinkers, there are several steps you can take to stop alcohol from disrupting your sleep. These include avoiding alcohol at least three to four hours before bed, reducing how much alcohol you drink, staying hydrated, improving your overall sleep hygiene, minimizing sleep disruptions, eating a small snack before bed, managing anxiety, and speaking to a doctor.

You’ll need different treatments depending on whether you have clinical insomnia (treatments may look similar to those suffering from alcohol dependence) or sleep problems that aren’t classified as insomnia, which are still serious and very worth fixing.

Here’s more on those key tips to avoiding alcohol insomnia for the casual drinker or those without alcohol abuse problems. 

Stop Drinking At Least Three to Four Hours Before Bed

Alcohol can affect your sleep hours after you’ve consumed it. To minimize the effects of alcohol on your sleep, avoid it at least three to four hours before bedtime. 

Everyone reacts differently to alcohol, though, so you may want to cut yourself off sooner. Research shows alcohol consumption can affect sleep even if you stop drinking six hours before bed. 

We’ve covered more on how long before bed to stop drinking alcohol here. 

RISE can send you a personalized reminder for when to stop drinking each night. 

RISE app screenshot reminding you when to have last alcoholic drink
The RISE app can tell you when to have your final drink.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their avoid late alcohol reminder here.

Cut Down the Amount You Drink 

The more you drink, the longer alcohol can last in your system and the more it can affect your sleep. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men should keep alcohol intake to two drinks a day or less and women stick to one drink or less. 

You might also want to cut down on the number of nights you drink to give your body more chances of getting a good night of alcohol-free sleep. 

Stay Hydrated 

Alcohol can dehydrate you and dehydration has been linked with short sleep duration. 

Make sure you’re drinking throughout the day and not too close to bedtime. Cut yourself from liquids at least two hours before bed to avoid middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. 

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene 

As a reminder, sleep hygiene is the name for the daily behaviors that can help or hurt your sleep. Good sleep hygiene can promote sleepiness come bedtime and help you fall and stay asleep. 

Here’s what good sleep hygiene looks like: 

  • Get out in natural light first thing each morning 
  • Avoid bright light about 90 minutes before bed 
  • Avoid caffeine about 12 hours before bed
  • Avoid large meals two to three hours before bed
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet
  • Do a relaxing bedtime routine (especially if you feel anxious after drinking)
  • Keep a regular sleep pattern, even on weekends   
  • Avoid napping for more than 90 minutes or later than the mid-afternoon  

RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits at the right time for your body clock to make them even more effective. 

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Minimize Sleep Disruptions 

This one sounds obvious, but it’s easy for sleep disruptions to stack up when you’ve had a drink.

Firstly, watch out for the poor sleep hygiene habits that may come with drinking — like late-night meals or bright light exposure. You might also smoke cigarettes or cannabis when drinking, which can also contribute to sleep problems.

Think about the drinks you order, too. Avoid anything with sugar or caffeine that could further disrupt your sleep. 

Beyond this, if you’re experiencing alcohol-induced sleep problems (or any sleep problems for that matter) you might rely on caffeine to get through the day, but this can make it harder to sleep come bedtime.

And prepping your bedroom for sleep also becomes more important. Alcohol can trigger night sweats, so you want to get the temperature right. Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Eat a Small Healthy Snack Before Bed 

Avoid midnight takeout or anything too greasy or fatty — this may cause problems like acid reflux, further disrupting sleep. 

Instead, go for a light healthy snack like a piece of fruit or Greek yogurt. This will give your body some fuel to break down the alcohol in your system.  

Manage Anxiety 

Alcohol and sleep loss from previous nights of alcohol insomnia can trigger or worsen anxiety, and anxiety can make it much harder to drift off. RISE users even say stress and anxiety are their biggest challenges when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. 

Try breathing exercises and relaxation techniques — like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation — to help calm anxious thoughts. These exercises are also a great distraction when lying awake in bed. 

RISE can guide you through these exercises. 

If you’re suffering from serious mental health issues, reach out to loved ones or a healthcare professional for support. 

RISE app screenshot of relaxation audio guide
The RISE app can guide you through breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.

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

Speak to a Doctor 

A healthcare provider can test you for sleep disorders and medical conditions that could be keeping you up. They can also recommend treatment options, like CBT-I if you’ve got clinical insomnia or sleeping pills, if appropriate. 

Expert tip: Avoid over-the-counter sleep aids like Benadryl. These may help you drift off at first, but the sleep you’ll get isn’t the natural, restorative sleep you need for maximum energy. Plus, you may experience negative effects like rebound insomnia, which is when your sleep problems get worse when you stop taking the medication. 

Had a drink or two and can’t sleep the next day? We’ve covered how to sleep with a hangover here. 

How Long Does It Take Sleep to Improve After Stopping Drinking Alcohol? 

For the casual drinker without clinical insomnia, you may find your sleep improves when you make some lifestyle changes — like drinking less, avoiding alcoholic drinks three to four hours before bed, and otherwise improving your sleep hygiene. 

Things are a little more complicated for those with an alcohol abuse problem. Studies show mixed results, with alcohol insomnia and related sleep disruptions lasting from five weeks to six months. 

Alcohol withdrawal insomnia may clear up when withdrawal symptoms subside. But research shows sleep fragmentation from alcohol use can last one to three years after you quit drinking. 

Problems like decreased sleep time and deep sleep and increased light sleep and sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) should clear up with sustained abstinence. The timeframe can look different for everyone, though. 

We’ve covered more on why you can’t sleep after drinking alcohol here. 

Expert tip: Check your sleep debt. This is how much sleep you owe your body. RISE works out your sleep debt each night, so you can see whether you’re missing out on sleep and whether cutting down on alcohol before bed is helping. 

FYI, sleep debt is measured against your sleep need — the genetically determined amount of sleep you need. This might be more than you think. 

When we looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, we found it ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes, but 48% needed eight hours or more sleep a night. 

RISE works out your sleep need, so you know what you should be aiming for.

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

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

Why Does Alcohol Cause Insomnia? 

Alcohol can cause insomnia — or sleep problems that look like insomnia — in a few different ways. It can fragment your sleep, so you wake up more often in the night, suppress the sleep hormone melatonin, and alter your sleep stages. 

Alcohol can suppress rapid-eye-movement sleep, or REM sleep. Research from 2024 shows this change to sleep architecture persists across consecutive nights of pre-sleep alcohol.

When REM sleep is suppressed, the brain attempts to compensate with increased REM, known as REM rebound, on subsequent nights when alcohol is not consumed. This can cause lighter and more easily disrupted sleep.

Alcohol can also trigger night sweats, cause or and worsen anxiety, increase your risk of snoring by 14% (and the more you drink, the worse your snoring can be), and increase your risk of obstructive sleep apnea by 25%

If you have an alcohol abuse problem, you may take longer to fall asleep and get less REM and sleep overall, both when drinking and when in withdrawal. You may also experience insomnia and sleep disturbances when drinking and years after you’ve quit. 

Learn more on how alcohol affects sleep here.

Restful Nights Are Possible  

Those with a substance abuse problem should seek medical advice on how best to quit alcohol and treat their insomnia. 

But alcohol can wreak havoc with your sleep, even without heavy drinking.

You can stop alcohol from disrupting your sleep by avoiding it at least three to four hours before bed and cutting down on how much you drink. Improving your overall sleep hygiene can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often, too. 

RISE can make this second nature by telling you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits at the time that’ll make them most effective for you. 

Users say this improves their sleep and energy levels: 

“Providing times for when to stop drinking alcohol, start winding down for bed, and my optimal wake-up and go-to-bed times have been so helpful…I think it’s helping me set a course to be more in control of my sleep and energy throughout the day.” Read the review

You might be able to banish alcohol insomnia fast — 80% of users get better sleep within five days. 

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