Why Alcohol RUINS Your Sleep

You don’t realize how great it can be until you experience it sober.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

“There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.” — Edward Lucas


We are at the end of the first month of the new year and the question has to be asked of how are you doing on those resolutions?

Many people have a number of similar resolutions to get in the best shape of their lives, get that promotion at work, or make more money than they ever had before.

Some of them sit down and put a detailed plan together of all the different things they are going to do better and differently in 2022 and how it’s going to be “their” year because of it.

What’s funny about these plans and the list of how people are going to change their lives for the better is that many people miss the one thing that can possibly have the greatest determining factor on if these plans will actually be successful or not: sleep.

If you want to know the why and how of the importance of sleep you can find it in this article that I wrote recently.

However, for the purpose of this specific piece, we are going to look at alcohol’s relationship with sleep in a little bit more detail to make sure to really drive home how it basically impossible to get the quality of sleep your body needs if you drink alcohol excessively and for some people anything at all.

Creation or increased results of sleep apnea

One of the things that I (and my wife noticed) is that I snored immensely more when I was drinking.

We just figured this was a result of how tired I was because we typically went to bed later on nights in which we consumed more alcohol than others. And while there was some truth to that based on the fact I wasn’t getting enough quality of sleep to not be tired, the reality is that alcohol was increasing the possibility of me developing sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by abnormal breathing and temporary loss of breath that wakes a lot of people up during the night.

There are two specific types, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). The first is related to actual physical blockages in the back of the throat, while the second occurs because your central nervous system cannot properly signal for your muscles to breathe accordingly while sleeping.

Alcohol can greatly contribute to both of these. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can relax the throat muscles to the point that it creates a greater obstruction in that part of the body to create these disruptions (hence snoring more) and cause you to wake up.

In regards to CSA, once again, if the depressant effect of alcohol is great enough from excessive drinking, it can also cause the central nervous system to slow down its response to natural functions and increase the chances of this occurring.

While alcohol can exacerbate these effects for someone who already experiences sleep apnea, it can possibly create this in someone who has never experienced it before.

Both results are not desirable and greatly decrease one’s ability to get a good night’s rest and can be dangerous for one’s health in the long run.

Increased Non-REM Sleep and Decreased REM Sleep

One might think that an increased type of sleep may be a good thing, but the reality is this is a major problem for our body.

Non-REM sleep is the type of sleep that doesn’t involve dreaming. This is typically the deep sleep that we fall into initially upon going to sleep after a night of drinking.

Many of us are familiar with this because this is that sleep that seems to engulf our entire being. Our friends may try to wake us up during this time and sometimes we do wake up but just do not remember it.

One would think getting sleep so deep that we don’t dream and from which it’s hard to wake would be a good thing, but that’s precisely the opposite. If we have more non-REM sleep that directly relates to a decrease in our REM sleep, and this is the sleep that our body absolutely needs to be healthy and grow.

REM sleep is related to a number of positive benefits for our body and is needed to allow our brain and body to repair themselves. The more of it we get, the better our brain is able to function, as well as a number of other parts of our body.

There are a number of different hormones throughout the body that are secreted during REM sleep. When this is reduced, this wreaks havoc on your body’s ability to function properly when you are awake.

Scientists have performed studies that have tracked how much sleep disruptions are based on the volume of alcohol consumed, and a recent study has shown that there is definitely a negative correlation between how much you drink and the quality of sleep one is able to get.

Moderate alcohol consumption (one to two glasses per night) was still associated with a 24% decrease in overall quality of sleep, while those who were considered heavy or excessive drinkers saw a 40% decrease in quality.

Even those who drank below the recommended amount of one to two glasses still saw as much as a 9.3% decrease in their quality of sleep as well, so any amount of alcohol appears to have a possible negative effect.

Constant Waking Throughout the Night

And last, this is the one that most people know and directly relate to the consumption of alcohol.

When drinking alcohol, most people seem to go to sleep immediately, i.e., pass out, as one of its benefits is that it greatly reduces the time of the initial onset of sleep for most people.

However, we’ve all been there in which after that initial dead sleep wears off from which it may be impossible for others to wake us, we then wake up at that dreaded 2–3 am time and find it almost impossible to go back to sleep.

The reason for this is related to your body’s physiological response to alcohol and how it is constantly performing its natural bodily functions to keep you healthy and alive.

The natural way that your body reacts to the poisonous parts of alcohol in your body is that it has to metabolize them through your liver to get it out. This, of course, is the reason that most people who drink excessively and would be considered alcoholics have liver issues as they age.

This metabolic process to get the poison out of your body is a very active and engaging experience, as one would imagine, and therefore is like trying to allow your computer to “rest” while it is doing a full security scan and deletion of potential malware.

By the very nature of the intensity of the activity, your body has to be “on” for it to do so correctly, and, therefore, you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder why it is impossible for you to go back to sleep.

There are other types of foods and things we can do before going to bed from which our body can respond similarly, but alcohol is the one that typically has the most consistent and substantial effect, as the body has to get this poison out of you as quickly as possible to prevent you from dying.

This experience makes getting any type of sleep impossible, much less the deep REM sleep you need to refresh your brain and other parts of your body.

And while I can’t promise that getting the quality of sleep your body needs will guarantee you’ll hit all of your goals this year, I feel very confident that it’ll definitely increase your chances a bit.