How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep Quality?

If you think that a nightcap is going to help you fall asleep faster or keep you asleep longer, think again. Although healthy people might get to sleep a tad faster after drinking an alcoholic beverage before they go to bed, alcohol still won’t improve your overall quality of sleep, and it even reduces your rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is required to enjoy that deep sleep that everyone needs.

How Does Sleep Work?

About 90 minutes after you fall asleep, you go into REM sleep, which is the extra-deep sleep where dreams occur and which is undoubtedly the most important type of sleep during the night. If you don’t experience REM sleep, you will not wake up the next morning feeling refreshed. In fact, without REM sleep it may even feel like you didn’t sleep at all during the night.

If your REM sleep is disturbed for any reason, you not only end up getting less sleep, but you also suffer with daytime drowsiness, poor concentration, and all of the other negative side effects associated with not getting a good night’s sleep. Drinking alcohol before you go to bed, at least when you drink more than a glass or two, might help you fall asleep faster but it also causes more disruptions in your sleep later in the night.

Because of these disruptions, you may not get the REM sleep you need, and if you do, the rest of your sleep will not be as sound because it is constantly being disrupted. Having a glass or two of wine or another alcoholic beverage doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on your sleep, but this isn’t the case when your consumption goes beyond two servings of alcohol.

Think of it as Short-Term

For the best sleep you can get, it’s best not to drink more than one or two glasses of an alcoholic beverage before you go to bed. Think of it this way: alcohol can help you relax and fall asleep faster, which helps at the beginning of the sleep cycle. Still, the effects of the alcohol linger on throughout the night, so once you get to sleep, you are not likely to sleep as deep or stay asleep as long as you would if you didn’t drink the alcohol.

In other words, a nightcap is a short-term solution to a problem that may be something long-term if you don’t look at the root cause of why you aren’t falling asleep fast enough. If you have trouble night after night falling asleep, it is likely time to see your doctor about the problem, and you can bet your doctor won’t prescribe a “nightcap” to help you sleep better.

Since people who drink alcohol before they go to bed will often fall asleep faster, many of them assume that alcohol in general does help people sleep better. In other words, they may feel like the alcohol is helping them, but that is normally not the case.
Yet another problem that alcohol may cause for people who have trouble sleeping concerns people who suffer with sleep apnea. As a general rule, the only people who do fall asleep faster after drinking a few glasses of alcohol seem to be people who are healthy and have no medical conditions, which means if you do have certain medical conditions, your sleep problems may become worse.

This is especially true for people who have sleep apnea, which is a condition that causes people to stop breathing on a regular basis throughout the night. Many people with this condition sleep with CPAP machines, but alcohol can still make sleep apnea much worse. Same with other medical conditions, which is why even having a drink or two before you go to bed may not help you sleep better if you’re on certain medications.

Non-REM and REM Sleep

Throughout the night, you go through four stages of sleep, known collectively as a cycle, which are repeated over and over again all night long. Each cycle lasts 90 to 120 minutes, and they include three non-REM stages and one REM stage. Each of these cycles is important when your aim is to get more restful and better sleep night after night, and since alcohol interrupts your REM sleep, even when it occurs later in the night, that alcohol really does nothing to help you sleep more soundly.

People with insomnia can have problems falling asleep, staying asleep for long periods of time, and getting sleep that is real quality sleep. When you suffer from insomnia, it is easy to think that having a few drinks will help with all three of these areas, but not only does it not help, it can also make getting sound sleep harder to do. 

In fact, in many cases when people drink alcohol night after night to help them fall asleep, they are much more likely to start having a problem with alcohol dependency than they are finding a solution to their insomnia. This is yet another reason why doctors and sleep specialists recommend that people suffering with any type of sleep problems stay away from alcohol instead of using it as a way to get to sleep.


If you’re having trouble sleeping and are looking for tips to learn how to sleep better, drinking alcohol before going to bed is never recommended. Although people without medical conditions may fall asleep faster by drinking one or two glasses of alcohol before they go to bed, they will likely not be able to sleep soundly throughout the night, especially since their REM sleep is very likely to suffer.

If you’re having problems falling or staying asleep, buy yourself a firm mattress, get one of those pillows made specifically for people who have trouble falling asleep, and start taking care of yourself. Eating right and getting regular exercise are great ways to help you sleep better at night, and they are all-natural ways as well. You should also avoid sleeping pills because they can be addictive, and research other natural methods of helping people get a much better night’s sleep.