How does alcohol really affect your sleep?

·Lifestyle Reporter
·4-min read

Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for overall physical and mental health, but there’s no denying that catching a few zzz's can sometimes be difficult.

Some people think that alcohol can help them to get a good night's sleep, but it turns out that's not really the case.

Woman sleeping in bed.
How does alcohol really affect your sleep? Source: Getty Images

Whether it’s a glass of wine with dinner or a little nightcap, consuming alcohol, particularly in the evening, can affect your sleep more than you realise.

How does alcohol affect sleep?

Studies show that 70 per cent of Aussies were drinking more alcohol than usual during the Covid-19 pandemic. And with 34 per cent of Aussies drinking daily, how exactly is alcohol affecting everyone's sleep?

You may have heard of REM (rapid eye movement) most commonly associated with the dreaming stage of sleep when your brain is most active. If you have a decline of REM, it can impact your overall sleep, leaving you short of a few hours of much-needed shut-eye.

The Sleep Foundation researched how alcohol causes an imbalance between slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, decreasing overall sleep quality.

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Although you may wake under the impression that you’ve had a good eight hours, if you’ve experienced a shortage of sleep you may notice a lack of concentration, low mood, and daytime drowsiness the following day.

Woman suffering from headache.
It's best to avoid alcohol up to 4 hours before you sleep. Source: Getty Images

What if I use alcohol to help me sleep?

Although alcohol can cause tiredness and make you fall asleep quicker, there’s no guarantee you’ll be sleeping through the night.

Irshaad Ebrahim, medical director at The London Sleep Centre, says: "Alcohol may seem to be helping you to sleep… but overall it is more disruptive to sleep, particularly in the second half of the night."

In fact, common downsides of drinking alcohol just before you sleep also include restlessness, night sweats, nightmares, and headaches too.

Does alcohol affect everyone?

It’s also no surprise that alcohol affects every individual differently. This can depend on factors such as age, sex, and body type.

For example, women produce smaller quantities of enzymes which helps to break down alcohol. They also possess lower levels of water in their bodies, which helps to disperse alcohol.

It may surprise you, but these two factors alone can lead to a higher blood alcohol concentration for a woman in comparison to a similar-sized man. In turn, this causes women to feel the effects of alcohol more prominently.

Group of friends drinking beer.
Alcohol is especially disruptive to the second part of your sleep. Source: Getty Images

What other problems can alcohol cause?

With 1 in 5 Aussies estimated to be affected by a major sleep disorder, understanding the importance of sleep on our wellbeing is more vital than ever.

Alcohol can cause numerous problems to sleep including; sleep apnea, snoring, insomnia, sleep disorders, and ageing.

If you ever wake yourself up snoring or have suffered a case of sleep apnea, alcohol could be to blame.

The consumption of alcohol increases sleep apnea and snoring as it relaxes the muscles of the upper airways.

"With increasing doses, alcohol suppresses our breathing. It can turn non-snorers into snorers and snorers into people with sleep apnoea - where the breathing's interrupted," Dr Ebrahim explains.

Therefore, it’s best to try and avoid drinking alcohol up to 4 hours before your bedtime to help minimise the effects.

Tips for improving your sleep

As a vital part of our health and wellbeing, it’s important to improve your sleep when you can.

While a reduction of alcohol is likely to improve sleep, we’ve put together a few additional tips to ensure you’re getting enough shut-eye.

  1. Try to avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine, particularly in the evening.

  2. Set a regular bed and wake time.

  3. Regular exercise.

  4. Keep your bedroom at a cool temperature.

  5. Stay off your phone before bedtime.

  6. Take some time to relax before you fall asleep.

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