It is not known for sure what effect alcohol has on your sleep. However, the consensus among experts is that alcohol affects REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It may cause some people to wake up during the night and have trouble going back to sleep because it disrupts the progression of sleep from light to deep stages. The disruption causes a person to be more alert when they wake up, when in fact they may just be fatigued from a lack of deep restorative sleep.
Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic. This means that the more you drink, the more likely you are to wake up to use the bathroom during the night. This interrupts your sleep cycle and can contribute to dehydration.
Alcohol slows down the brain, and can have dangerous effects on heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. It can cause seizures, confusion, loss of inhibitions, and poor concentration.
Alcohol can make you forgetful, increase your risk of dementia and depression, and cause lasting damage to nerve cells in the parts of your brain responsible for learning.
Tips to prevent sleep-related problems with alcohol
- If you are planning to drink even just one glass of wine at dinner, start decreasing your caffeine intake earlier in the day so it does not affect your ability to get rest that night. Caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics, posing a dehydration risk.
- Drink a glass of water before going to sleep. If you wake up at night feeling thirsty, down a glass or two of water depending on how much alcohol you consumed that evening. Continue taking water, if necessary, throughout the next day until your thirst is quenched. Your body might be telling you it is dehydrated even if it does not feel like you are.
- Avoid taking alcohol right before bedtime.
- Take water in between drinks so that you do not become too intoxicated. Also, avoid alcohol on an empty stomach because it will enter your bloodstream faster.
- If you are going to drink, do so in moderation.