Sorry, Drinking Alcohol Won’t Help You Sleep

By May Wilkerson 08/14/15

Having a nightcap before bed can actually cause sleep disorders.

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Drinking a nightcap or two might quiet those racing thoughts before bedtime, but alcohol is actually not an effective sleep aid. In fact, it can have just the opposite effect. We’ve all been told to avoid looking at iPhone or computer screens before bed, but booze is even worse, explains Sleep Medicine Specialist Dr. Dianne Augelli in a recent episode of Oprah’s digital series, #OWNSHOW.

"Drinking a nightcap or having alcohol may be much worse for your sleep than using an electronic device," said Augelli. "Some people will [drink alcohol] thinking it helps them fall asleep faster, when it actually can cause a lot of problems."

Among other issues, alcohol can worsen problems for people with sleep disorders or breathing issues, like sleep apnea. But even for those without prior sleep issues, it can prevent you from getting the most out of your shut-eye. "What alcohol does is it decreases the amount of REM sleep that we get," said Augelli. "REM is important for consolidating memories and learning from the previous day."

The more booze you drink, the more your sleep is likely to be disrupted. These problems can carry over into the next day, making you sleepy or unable to concentrate. Augelli says women are recommended to drink even less before bed, since they typically metabolize alcohol at a slower rate.

"Women tend to absorb more alcohol, and we have less of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol," she said. "If a man and a woman drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman is going to have a higher concentration, and that will impact the quality of her sleep."

For the best quality sleep, Augelli recommends ceasing alcohol intake three or more hours before bedtime, and replacing wine, beer or spirits with water. "If that doesn't happen,” she said, “make it the exception rather than the rule."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.