Alcohol and Sleep

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Alcohol can seriously hurt your sleep! A few drinks before bed certainly help you fall asleep quicker, which may come as a great relief when you are stressed out or suffering from insomnia. But the toll alcohol takes on your body is serious. The bottom line: alcohol and sleep do not mix!



Effect of Alcohol Sleep

Normal Sleep Cycles

Alcohol reduces the body’s ability to achieve both deep and REM sleep. In the first half of the night, your body gradually drifts into deep sleep (Stage 3 and Stage 4). During the night, a normal sleeper cycles between different sleep stages, alternating between non-REM and REM sleep. Normal sleep architecture typically consists of four or five non-REM and REM periods. Most deep sleep occurs in the first half of the night. As the night progresses, REM sleep gets longer and deep sleep decreases. During deep sleep, the pituitary gland releases a burst of growth hormone.

Alcohol reduces the body’s ability to achieve deep sleep and inhibits the release of growth hormone.1 One particular study shows that alcohol causes a significant and dose-dependent decrease in growth hormone secretion in the first four hours of sleep. For a 200 lb man, 4 ½ drinks of beer, wine, or hard liquor right before bedtime causes a 60% decrease in GH secretion on average. These numbers are based on the studies administration of 0.5 g of alcohol per 1.0 kg of bodyweight. Higher doses of alcohol cause an even greater decrease in nighttime GH secretion.2 Remember, growth hormone stimulates muscle repair, tissue growth, and fat metabolism making you leaner, fitter, and stronger. The image below shows the effects of alcohol and sleep.

Alcohol also decreases REM sleep by increasing the number of times you wake up in the second half of the night.2 This leads to more fragmented sleep and less restorative REM sleep. Less REM sleep leaves your mind less restored and you feeling less well rested. Lastly, alcohol can lead to a reduction in overall sleep time. As a result, it can also be associated with daytime tiredness. It is of interest that alcohol’s negative effects on sleep are even observed when it is ingested in the late afternoon.3,4

Alcohol and Sleep

Effect of Alcohol on Sleep Apnea and Snoring

Alcohol and sleep apnea and snoring can also be related. Alcohol relaxes the throat muscles, which can lead to or worsen snoring and sleep apnea, a condition in which collapsing of tissue in the throat physically blocks airflow. Sleep apnea causes oxygen deprivation to the body and brain which then forces you to wake up to actively clear your throat. This in turn prevents continuous sleep, which is necessary to achieve deep and REM sleep cycles.

Tips on Alcohol Consumption for Better Sleep

Alcohol in moderation can be healthy; however alcohol and sleep should be kept separate. Here are some quick tips to help prevent alcohol from interfering with your sleep:

  • Make the effort to limit yourself to 1 – 2 drinks per day.
  • Finish drinking at least 3 – 4 hours before bedtime. This allows the body to fully metabolize the consumed alcohol prior to sleep so that it will not interfere with your deep and REM sleep cycles.

EMG’s Sleep Homepage: Importance of Sleep

Updated: April 10th, 2015


1. Ekman AC, Vakkuri O, Ekman M, Leppäluoto J, Ruokonen A, Knip M. Alcohol and Sleep. Ethanol decreases nocturnal plasma levels of thyrotropin and growth hormone but not those of thyroid hormones or prolactin in man. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Jul 1996 ;81 (7): 2627-2632.

2. Roehrs T, Roth T. Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. Alcohol Res Health. 2001; 25 (2): 101-109.

3. Yules RB, Lippman ME, Freedman DX. Alcohol administration prior to sleep; the effect on EEG sleep stages. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1967; 16; 94-97.

4. Madsen BW, Rossi L. Sleep and Michaelis-Menten elimination of ethanol. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1980; 27: 114-119.