Alcohol and sleep – it doesn't pay to tempt sleep with a nightcap

A nightcap before going to bed may make you feel relaxed and help you fall asleep. However, alcohol disturbs and ruins the restorative effect of sleep, and at worst may lead to insomnia.

A nightcap is not a good sleeping pill

The relaxing effect of one or at most two standard servings of alcohol may help you fall asleep. However, studies show that even a small quantity of alcohol reduces the amount of restorative sleep you will get. For example, after drinking five servings of alcohol, an 80 kg person will lose an average of 45 minutes of restorative sleep during the first three hours. This may not necessarily sound like a lot, but the ill effects will add up and may affect your energy levels the next day. The effect that alcohol has on restorative sleep can vary greatly between individuals.

Alcohol causes broken sleep and insomnia

As your blood alcohol content rises, your heartrate will also increase. A high heartrate will disturb the restorative effect of sleep and will keep your body in a stressed state. As the alcohol is removed from your system, you may feel restless and will be more likely to wake up during the night.

Heavy alcohol consumption is a common reason for insomnia. The alcohol you drank the previous day will cause withdrawal symptoms the following evening. One such symptom is anxiety, which may lead to insomnia.

Alcohol affects sleep quality

After a bad night’s sleep, you will feel weak and ineffectual. Depression and irritability will make it difficult to work or study. In addition to poor performance, a bad memory and weakened learning ability, a long-term lack of sleep and stress will also put you at risk of many illnesses. After you reduce your alcohol consumption or quit drinking altogether, you will quickly experience an improvement in sleep quality. During the first night unaffected by alcohol, you will immediately get more restorative sleep and will feel more refreshed in the morning.

As your body gets used to the relaxing affect of alcohol, you will need to up the dose

With repeated use, your body will get accustomed to alcohol. This means that you will have to drink more in order to get the same relaxing effect from alcohol. As your alcohol consumption increases, so do the harmful effects and the risk of illness. Read more about the harmful effects of alcohol and illnesses caused by alcohol.

Alcohol use makes snoring worse

Alcohol has a relaxing effect on the whole body. When the muscles in your upper respiratory tract relax, it often causes snoring. It also increases the risk of sleep apnea (interrupted breathing while asleep).

In order to get a good and refreshing night’s sleep, it is essential for your body to burn all the alcohol you have consumed before you go to sleep. 

Read more about burning alcohol and the removal of alcohol from the body.

Article sources:
Helsingin Sanomat

Article picture: 123RF