Don’t let poor sleep ruin your life

Does alcohol help you sleep?

For many people drinking alcohol is a regular part of life, but that evening glass of wine could be playing havoc with your sleep.

While it might seem tempting to have a nightcap to help you drift off, you may find that you wake up in the morning feeling worse than if you hadn’t drank at all and not just because of the hangover.

Although consuming alcohol may help you sleep initially, the quality of your sleep is likely to be reduced. If you’re regularly drinking alcohol to help you fall asleep, then you should try to address the underlying issue that is causing your sleep problem.

If you’re suffering from insomnia or poor sleep and think that alcohol can help the unfortunate truth is that it’s more likely to make your sleep problem worse. So, what are your options to improve sleep?

How can you improve your sleep?

We will go into more detail about why alcohol isn’t recommended for curing insomnia in the remainder of this article but let’s explore your options to improve your sleep first.

When we rule out alcohol, quite often we find people assume that prescribed medication will have the best results when combating insomnia. Sleeping pills chemically induce sleep but they have many negative side effects, are often addictive and can make sleep problems worse. The best approach to beating insomnia has proven to be a special type of cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia. Historically, this therapy would have been delivered in a specialist sleep clinic or hospital. Not everyone has access or the time to visit a sleep clinic and it’s not actually necessary to do so to get help for insomnia. Insomnia can be diagnosed by describing your symptoms and it can be treated at home. That is where Sleepstation comes in, we offer the same benefits as a sleep clinic, but digitally, anyone with internet availability can gain access to our services.

Sleepstation is:

  • Clinically proven
  • More effective than sleeping pills
  • Free to access for most NHS patients in England
  • An effective alternative to alcohol for addressing insomnia

Take our quick sleep survey and see what options are most appropriate for you.

How alcohol disrupts your sleep

Alcohol is two things - a stimulant (which is why you can end up dancing on tables til 2am) and a sedative (causing you to fall asleep in the middle of that Netflix show you really wanted to watch).

The sedative part is the bit that means you will probably fall asleep when your head hits the pillow, which sounds great, right? Unfortunately, despite getting to sleep quicker, you might find yourself waking up suddenly in the middle of the night as the alcohol leaves your system.

All the alcohol you’ve drunk in the evening has usually gone from your body about halfway through the night, then there tends to be a rebound effect where you are more awake in the second half of the night; Dr. Kirstie Anderson, co-founder of Sleepstation

Despite the fact that alcohol may reduce the time taken to fall asleep initially, alcohol will not help you sleep better. Alcohol affects sleep, daytime alertness, and certain physiological processes that occur during sleep.

As most people know from their own experience, sleep is not uniform through-out the night. For example, at certain times during the night, it is very difficult to wake a sleeping person, whereas at other times, the slightest sound will alert the sleeper. Extensive studies have identified two different sleep states: REM sleep and nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Furthermore, NREM sleep can be divided into stages based on how easy it is to arouse a sleeper (i.e., how “deep” the sleep is).

Once the alcohol clears from the system there is a ‘rebound’ from the suppressed phase of sleep leading to increased REM sleep as well as more awakenings and lighter sleep in the second half of the night. This can lead to more bizarre and intense dreams and can leave you feeling exhausted when you wake up, as alcohol-induced sleep is less restorative.

Graph showing how alcohol disrupts sleep

If that wasn’t enough alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning you will probably also need to get up to use the bathroom during the night. Altogether, alcohol before bed can significantly reduce the likelihood of you getting that long night of sleep you’d hoped for.

How cutting down on alcohol could help you sleep longer

Cutting down or not drinking at all will definitely help to improve your sleep. Drinking less alcohol will allow your brain to spend more time in deep sleep, and you are less likely to wake during the night.

At Sleepstation we suggest you don’t consume fluids two hours before bedtime, so if you’re planning to drinking alcohol it might be best to have a cut-off point in mind before you start.

Remember–the more you drink, the bigger the impact on your sleep. If you drink alcohol every night, it can be a good idea to begin by aiming for a few nights off per week and see how that makes you feel in the morning. Or, try alternating between non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks to reduce your intake.

You may find that, despite not dropping off as quickly when you don’t drink alcohol, you actually feel better when you wake up in the morning.

I want to cut down or stop drinking, but it’s hard

Stopping or cutting down on drinking can be tough, but you’re not alone. According to Club Soda, an online group that helps people become more mindful about their drinking, one in four people in London (1.5 million Londoners) are already drinking mindfully and moderately.

If you want to take a few nights or more off from drinking you don’t have to sit at home feeling glum. You can still go out to the pub with your friends, and try a non-alcoholic drink instead.

I stopped or cut down on drinking and now I can’t sleep

Some people find that when they do stop or cut down on drinking, at first they actually find it harder to sleep.

“If you used alcohol as a coping mechanism for finding it hard to get to sleep, then you have to deal with the underlying issue. Alcohol has been influencing your sleeping pattern for many years. It can take the body a bit of time to adjust to a normal sleep cycle that is not chemically induced;” says Laura Willoughby, the creator of Club Soda.

People who suffer from insomnia often feel worried or anxious about sleep, if you’ve been using alcohol to help you relax then it’s possible that you’ve been masking a sleep disorder that needs treatment.

Changing your sleep habits

Discovering whether you have a sleep disorder and getting the right treatment for it could make a huge difference to not only to your sleep, but your overall wellbeing.

Many people suffer with insomnia and sleep problems for years without seeking treatment, and use things such as alcohol to help. Over the long-term, this can be dangerous, particularly if you’re combining alcohol with sleeping pills.

At Sleepstation our sleep improvement programme is drug-free and we encourage you to develop positive sleep habits and teach you how to control your sleep using evidence-based methods. In particular CBTi, which has been found to be the most effective method to treat insomnia.

Many of the people who have used Sleepstation have had sleep problems for decades, and find they are able to get back to sleeping normally after just a few weeks following the Sleepstation programme.

Start by answering a few questions to find out if we could help you sleep better.

Did you know?

Alcohol will help you drift off easier, but you will spend more of the night in REM sleep meaning that you will often wake up feeling exhausted.

Further information

  • Why alcohol and good sleep don’t mix