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The Negative Impact of Alcohol on Sleep

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Alcohol is often enjoyed for its supposed relaxing and socialising effects, however, it is important to recognise that alcohol can have a detrimental impact on quality and quantity of sleep. While initially it may seem like alcohol helps with falling asleep, its effects on sleep architecture and overall sleep quality can be negative

Disruption of Sleep Architecture: How Alcohol Affects Quality of Sleep

Alcohol disrupts the natural sleep architecture by altering the normal progression of sleep stages. In the initial stages of sleep, alcohol acts as a sedative and can help individuals fall asleep faster. However, as the nights progresses, the quality of sleep deteriorates. Studies have shown that alcohol increases the duration of light sleep, while decreasing the amount of deep sleep. This disruption can result in fragmented and less restorative sleep, leaving individuals feeling groggy and fatigued upon waking.

Increased Sleep Fragmentation: The Consequences of Alcohol Consumption on Sleep Patterns

One of the negative effects of alcohol on sleep is increased sleep fragmentation. Alcohol has been found to cause more frequent awakenings throughout the night, leading to a disrupted sleep pattern. These awakenings can be attributed to several factors, including increased bathroom trips due to alcohol’s diuretic effects and the withdrawal symptoms that occur as alcohol levels in blood decrease during the night. As a result, individuals may experience poorer sleep efficiency and reduced overall sleep duration.

Impaired REM Sleep: Alcohol’s Impact on Cognitive Function and Emotional Wellbeing

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is a crucial stage of sleep associated with cognitive processes, memory consolidation and emotional regulation. Unfortunately, alcohol consumption suppresses REM sleep. Research has shown that alcohol decreases the duration of REM sleep and interferes with the normal cycling between REM and non-REM sleep stages. This disruption can have long-term consequences on cognitive functions, mood regulation and overall wellbeing.

Increased Snoring and Sleep-Related Breathing Issues: Alcohol’s Role in Sleep Disruption

Alcohol consumption has beed linked to an increase in snoring and other sleep-related breathing issues. Alcohol relaxes the muscles in throat and airway, which can lead to partial obstruction and increased resistance to airflow during sleep. This can result in louder and more frequent snoring, as well as an increased risk of developing sleep apnoea. These breathing obstructions further disturb sleep quality and can have detrimental effects on cardiovascular health and daytime functioning.

Worsened Sleep Disorders: How Alcohol Exacerbates Sleep Problems

Consumption of alcohol can exacerbate existing sleep disorders or contribute to the development of new ones. For individuals with conditions such as insomnia or sleep apnoea, alcohol can significantly worsen their symptoms. Alcohol relaxes muscles in the upper airway, making it more likely for sleep apnoea episodes to occur. Additionally, alcohol disrupts the natural sleep-wake cycle, making it harder for individuals with insomnia to achieve restful sleep. These negative effects can perpetuate a cycle of poor sleep and further impact overall wellbeing.

While initially alcohol may facilitate falling asleep, its overall impact on sleep quality and sleep patterns is largely negative. Alcohol increases sleep fragmentation, decreases the amount of restorative deep sleep and worsens sleep disorders. Furthermore, it impairs REM sleep and can contribute to snoring and other leap-relating breath issues. It is crucial to recognise the potential negative consequences of alcohol on sleep and consider limiting its consumption to promote optimal sleep health.

The Negative Effect of Alcohol on Sleep. Iremia Counselling


Ebrahim, I. O., Shapiro, C. M., Williams, A. J., & Fenwick, P. B. (2013). Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 37(4), 539–549.

Roehrs, T., & Roth, T. (2001). Sleep, sleepiness, sleep disorders and alcohol use and abuse. Sleep medicine reviews, 5(4), 287–297.

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