Alcohol as a Sleep Aid

Have you ever been told that a trusty nightcap helps with sleep? While a couple of glasses of your favourite boozy beverage may help with falling asleep in the short term, the ongoing negative effects that alcohol has on your nights sleep might encourage you to swap the wine glass for a cup of Calm Tea instead. 
It's not uncommon for adults to look to the wine cabinet as a 'booze and snooze' solution with some studies suggesting that up to 15% of adults use alcohol as a sleeping aid. This is due to the short term effect that alcohol has on our brain’s GABA receptors which slows neuronal signalling and causes a drowsy, heavy feeling.

Unfortunately, once our heads hit the pillow and the short term effects begin to wear off, alcohol starts wreaking havoc on our sleeping patterns, particularly in the 2nd half of our sleep cycle. This is due to the impact alcohol plays on our REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. For a healthy sleeper, around 20-25% of your sleep should be spent in REM, this is the most mentally restorative point of our sleep and is also the time we spend dreaming! When we consume alcohol, we block our ability to fall into a REM state, resulting in a restless, dream free night. The result of this lighter sleep then carries into the following day with studies noting that "people who use alcohol as a sleep aid are more tired and show lower daytime alertness than people who abstain from alcohol at night." These impairments can remain for several hours into the next day, even after blood levels return to zero.


Irshaad Ebrahim, a medical director and researcher at The London Sleep Centre in the U.K also explained that “alcohol can suppress breathing and precipitate sleep apnea.” Sleep Apnea occurs as a pause in breathing throughout the night and can trigger cases of insomnia.

If we were to get a little fancy and apply Newton's law to drinking "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." And yes, this is how we'd like to politely remind you that alcohol has a diuretic effect. As our body’s take little nutrients from our favourite drink, close to the equal amount of alcohol you drink in a night will (at some point) need to elevate the body. This may lead to multiple trips to the bathroom and naturally, a night of more disturbed sleep.

With all of these 'sleeping don'ts,' it can be tricky to know where to begin as you move towards a healthier bedtime routine, so we've listed a few things for you to try:

1. Engage in regular exercise - exercise has been linked to helping stabilize your mood and decompressing the mind, resulting in an easier evening wind down. Just be sure to train at least 2-3 hours before bedtime so that your endorphin peak doesn't keep you awake!

2. Hydrate and feel great - As a diuretic, alcohol dehydrates the body causing an increase in the chances of snoring and hoarseness as your throat and nasal passage dry out. Try and maintain a healthy level of hydration during the day for fewer interruptions at night. 8 glasses of water is usually optimal.

3. Keep your room cool -  A cool sleeping environment helps regulate your body's internal temperature, encouraging a level, restful sleep.

4. Set regular wake and bedtimes - Start with a simple bedtime routine to help promote your body's natural sleeping pattern and body clock. Over time you should feel your body naturally dozing off around your bedtime and wake around the same time as your regular alarm.

5. Consider natural sleep aids - If you're finding that restlessness or getting to sleep is an ongoing issue, why not take our Sleep Quiz to find a range of natural sleeping aids curated to suit your needs.


If you've made it this far and are still reluctant to pass up on your favourite glass at dinner, here are a few ways to help minimize the boozy backlash:

1. Follow the one for one rule!: For every drink, have a glass of water to maintain hydration.

2. Cap it three-hours before bed: Wrap your drinking session up at least three hours before you go to bed, so you’ve got plenty of time to begin flushing out the negative effects of alcohol.

3. Limit the binge: Try and cap your drinking to 1-2 glasses per night.

4. Work on your unwind routine: Try setting new sleep foundations that make you feel less reliant on the wine-unwind. Our Sleep Routine Kit helps manage your AM and PM moods to encourage a more stable sleeping pattern.

Tags: Science