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How Alcohol Affects Your Sleep

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A good night’s sleep is essential for our overall well-being. It helps us feel refreshed, recharged, and ready to tackle the day ahead. However, many people turn to alcohol as a way to relax and unwind after a long day, not realising that it can have a significant impact on the quality of their sleep. Let’s delve into the effects of alcohol on sleep and explore why it’s not as sleep friendly as it may seem.

Alcohol and Sleep:

At first glance, alcohol may seem like a sleep aid. It has sedative effects that can make you feel drowsy and help you fall asleep faster. This is because alcohol enhances the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that slows down brain activity, leading to a sense of relaxation. However, the truth is that while alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it can severely disrupt the quality of your sleep.

One of the primary ways alcohol affects sleep is by disrupting the sleep cycle. The sleep cycle consists of several stages, including rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. During REM sleep, our brains are highly active, and our bodies are in a state of muscle paralysis. REM sleep is crucial for cognitive function, memory consolidation, and emotional regulation. Non-REM sleep, on the other hand, is restorative and helps our bodies repair and rejuvenate.

Alcohol has been shown to disrupt the normal progression of the sleep cycle. While it may help you fall asleep faster, it can reduce the amount of REM sleep you get, leading to an imbalance in the sleep stages. This can result in fragmented, shallow sleep that leaves you feeling groggy and fatigued the next day, despite getting an adequate amount of sleep.

Another way alcohol can affect sleep is by exacerbating sleep disorders. If you already suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia, alcohol can make them worse. For example, alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat, which can increase the risk of snoring and worsen sleep apnea symptoms. Additionally, alcohol can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle, leading to insomnia and other sleep disturbances.

The “Rebound Effect”:

One of the lesser-known effects of alcohol on sleep is the “rebound effect.” After the initial sedative effects wear off, alcohol can actually disrupt your sleep in the latter part of the night. As alcohol is metabolized by the liver, it can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, leading to increased heart rate, sweating, and even nightmares. This can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and have difficulty falling back asleep, resulting in poor sleep quality.

While alcohol may initially seem like a way to relax and unwind, its effects on sleep are far from beneficial.   If you’re looking to bank some good quality zzzzzz’s try swapping out that night cap for a herbal tea.  Your REM sleep will thank you for it.


Mind The Sip’s recommendations are aligned with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines. Up to 10 standard drinks per week, no more than 4 standard drinks in any day. Noting that zero is always the healthiest and safest amount (moderation for some can be a slippery slope to excess).

Disclaimer: Content provided is not to be substituted for medical advice.

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