Alcohol and Insomnia: How Does Drinking Affect Sleep?
Last Updated: June 16, 2023
Although drinking alcohol can make going to sleep easier, it ultimately stops you from getting a deep, restorative sleep.
Have you ever used alcohol to help you sleep, only to notice that you don’t feel well-rested when you get up the following day? Or have you ever woken up after a night of drinking, still feeling groggy? While alcohol may seem to make it easier to sleep, it actually disrupts sleep and makes you more tired.
How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Alcohol affects sleep in many ways, impacting the body’s ability to get deep sleep and disrupting the process that helps maintain normal sleep. While alcohol might help you get to sleep more easily, it ultimately keeps you from getting deep, restorative sleep, making you feel more tired instead of more rested.
Alcohol Disrupts Sleep Stages
When you sleep, your brain progresses through different stages and depths of sleeping. One of the most important stages of sleep is rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is deep and restorative, essential in memory and learning. Alcohol suppresses REM sleep, making you feel less rested even if you get a full night’s sleep.
Alcohol Increases Adenosine Levels
Alcohol increases levels of adenosine in the bloodstream. Adenosine is a chemical that helps promote sleep, and the increased levels of adenosine are one of the reasons that drinking alcohol can make you sleepy.
While adenosine may help you get to sleep more quickly, artificially elevated levels of adenosine can disrupt the quality of your sleep while alcohol is in your system.
Alcohol Alters Circadian Rhythm
One key part of your body’s sleep cycle is your circadian rhythm. This biological clock helps your body recognize when it is night, releasing a hormone called melatonin and helping your body feel ready for bed. The circadian rhythm also plays an important role in helping maintain sleep throughout the night.
Alcohol affects your circadian rhythm, making your body less sensitive to changes that occur before sleep and suppressing melatonin. This plays a role in how alcohol disrupts your normal, healthy sleep.
Alcohol Worsens Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Alcohol causes muscles throughout your body to relax. Relaxation of muscles in your tongue and the back of your throat can make your tongue fall back into your airway while sleeping, causing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA wakes you up multiple times during the night so that you can begin breathing again, but it does not generally wake you but enough so that you are aware that you woke up. The net effect is that you slightly wake up multiple times during the night without realizing it, causing you to feel unrested after sleeping without fully knowing why.
Not Sure If Your Alcohol Use Is A Problem?
The MAST test is a series of yes-or-no questions that can be completed in about eight minutes.
Does Alcohol Cause Insomnia?
Insomnia is defined as difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. Because alcohol makes it difficult to get normal sleep, it is a cause of insomnia. While alcohol might make it easier to get to sleep, it disrupts normal sleep, making you feel more tired than you usually should after sleeping.
Alcohol Withdrawal and Insomnia
Insomnia is a common withdrawal symptom during alcohol detox. As the brain readjusts its chemistry to accommodate the absence of alcohol, it creates hyperactive-type symptoms. Insomnia is worsened by jumpiness, anxiety and tremors during alcohol withdrawal.
Evidence-based Alcohol Addiction Treatment
At The Recovery Village Atlanta, we have extensive experience helping people stop using alcohol as safely and comfortably as possible. We can help you overcome your addiction to alcohol, allowing you to sleep better and feel rested. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to learn how our evidence-based alcohol addiction treatment programs can help you sleep well again.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.
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Meyer, Christiane; Schoettner, Konrad; & Amir, Shimon. “The effects of circadian desynchronization on alcohol consumption and affective behavior during alcohol abstinence in female rats.” Behavioral Neuroscience. December 22, 2022. Accessed April 26, 2023.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “What Is Insomnia?” March 24, 2022. Accessed April 26, 2023.Chakravorty, Subhajit; Chaudhary, Ninad S.; & Brower, Kirk J. “Alcohol Dependence and its Relationship with Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders.” November 2016. Accessed April 26, 2023.