5 Reasons Why Drinking Alcohol to Fall Asleep Is Completely Counterproductive

You may want to save that nightcap for special occasions only.

We hate to be the ones to burst your champagne bubble, but drinking alcohol could be ruining your chances of a decent night's sleep. Even though it's tempting to have another glass of something to relax and indulge, the idea that alcohol will help you fall and stay asleep is a big old myth. In reality, sipping cocktails or a glass of wine right before bed can wreak havoc on your sleep cycles—even if it makes you sleepy at first. Here's why drinking before bed to promote better sleep is actually completely counterproductive.

Alcohol wakes you up at night.

While a drink or two at night can make you feel drowsy and prompt faster onset of asleep, going to bed with a buzz may lead to a worse night's sleep overall. In one comprehensive study, scientists reviewed 20 different studies and concluded that, while sleep may come more easily after consuming alcohol, you'll eventually wake up more easily and more often throughout the night or in the early hours of the morning.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, "the consumption of alcohol—especially in excess—has been linked to poor sleep quality and duration."

It can disrupt your REM sleep.

REM sleep, the deepest sleep stage, is essential to a good night's rest. It has a long list of benefits, including daytime alertness, improved learning, and better long-term memory, as well as allowing us to process our emotions, says Philip Gehrman, PhD, CBSM, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. The problem with alcohol is that it has a significant impact on REM sleep, which can hurt long-term memory and make us more irritable. "Basically, alcohol is a REM suppressant," says Gehrman. "The more we drink, the less REM we get." Moderation is the key to balancing a fun night out and a restful snooze.

Too many drinks can trigger heartburn.

Alcohol has been known to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle between your stomach and esophagus that's supposed to be closed except for when you're swallowing food. However, when you throw too many drinks into the mix, the muscle can relax and stay open for too long, causing stomach acid to come back up, which results in a burning feeling. Unfortunately, caffeine can have a similar effect, so if eliminating alcohol doesn't decrease your heartburn, you may want to cut back on that too.

It sends you to the bathroom.

While "breaking the seal" may be a total myth, alcohol's effect on the bladder is a real one. The fact is that consuming alcohol, a diuretic, can make you go more. Our bodies generally produce less urine at night than throughout the day, allowing us to sleep about six to eight hours without interruption. However, drinking alcohol before bed can cause us to wake up in the middle of the night with the urge to go, disrupting our sleep cycle.

Alcohol does not mix with sleeping aids.

Whether you're taking a prescription or leaning on other sleep aids, mixing them with alcohol can be harmful and sometimes downright dangerous. Both alcohol and most sleep medications target the neurotransmitter GABA, which calms our nervous activity. Because many sleep aids and alcohol target the same neural system, drinking too much can turn into a fatal combination, inhibiting parts of the brain that are necessary for survival like breathing and heart beating, Gehrman says. While many new sleep medications may not have as large of a risk, the safest bet is to never mix any kind of sleep aid with alcohol.

Looking for a more healthier sleep aid alternative to that nightcap? Science says taking a warm shower or bath this close to bed time can promote a better night's sleep.

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  1. Ebrahim IO, Shapiro CM, Williams AJ, Fenwick PB. Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013;37(4):539-549. doi:10.1111/acer.12006.

  2. The Scripps Research Institute. The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain. Accessed June 5, 2022.

  3. Shahab Haghayegh, Sepideh Khoshnevis, Michael H. Smolensky, Kenneth R. Diller, Richard J. Castriotta. Before-bedtime passive body heating by warm shower or bath to improve sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews. Volume 46, 2019, Pages 124-135. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2019.04.008.

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