How does alcohol affect your sleep?

Fancy a nightcap before bedtime? Before you pour your favourite drop, think carefully. That one little drink could ruin a good night’s sleep.

study by Finnish researchers has confirmed what many dedicated drinkers feared – alcohol consumption is a sleep wrecker.

Here are the details:

  • The study involved 4,098 men and women between 18 and 65 years old.
  • The researchers measured the heart-beat of the participants, comparing the results following a day drinking alcohol and a day without alcohol.
  • They took into account the amount of alcohol consumed and the physiology of the people being tested (factoring in age, gender, body mass index (BMI), physical activity and baseline sleep heart rate).

The results are bad news for drinkers:

  • Drinking alcohol affects your heart rate and disturbs your ability to relax and sleep well.
  • Both men and women were affected.
  • Regular exercise or being younger does not protect you from the effects of alcohol.

3 more reasons to avoid alcohol if you need a good night’s sleep

  1. Alcohol affects your breathing.

Alcohol intake can also worsen obstructive sleep apnea and increase other breathing problems.

  1. Alcohol disturbs REM sleep.

Alcohol affects the amount of time spent in REM sleep, even when you only drink a moderate amount. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is just one stage of the sleep cycle. It helps us consolidate memories and is believed to help our mood and support learning.

Lack of REM sleep impacts both our physical and mental health.  

  1. Alcohol makes you dehydrated.

If you hit the pillow after a big night out, chances are you’ll wake up with a dry mouth, a parched throat and possibly a hangover. Even being mildly dehydrated can interfere with a good night’s sleep and leave you feeling sluggish and irritable the next morning.

What other drinks should you avoid at bedtime?

Alcohol isn’t the only drink you should avoid before bedtime.

Drinks like tea, coffee, cola and hot chocolate all contain caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant well-known for disrupting sleep. Read more about caffeine and sleep here.

Keeping hydrated is important for overall good health but downing too much water before bed should also be avoided. Drink more than a small glass of water and you might find yourself heading to the bathroom during the night – a sure way to interrupt your sleep.

The bottom line: Avoid drinking alcohol before you sleep.

If you can’t resist a tipple at night, try sticking to a moderate amount well before bedtime –about 3 to 4 hours before you head to bed. Otherwise, perhaps try a mug of warm milk and an early night!