by Laurie Wertich, Medically Reviewed by Dr. C.H. Weaver MD 1/2019
Some people believe that an alcoholic drink before bed, or “night cap,” helps them fall asleep. Alcohol poses a misleading conundrum: it appears to make you drowsy, but it actually interferes with deep sleep, leaving you groggy and sleep-deprived the next day.
While you may fall asleep faster, alcohol may disrupt your sleep later in the night, making that night cap a risk for poor-quality sleep. The bottom line: avoid alcohol late in the evening.
Your bedtime routine can improve your chances of falling asleep easily and enjoying good-quality sleep. Behaviors intended to help you relax and wind down in preparation for sleep are known as “sleep hygiene.” The following is a list of sleep hygiene tips:
- Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
- Make sure that your bedroom is quiet and dark and provides a relaxing environment (for example, keep the room free of clutter). The bedroom temperature should neither be too warm or too cold; some people sleep best in a room that is slightly cool.
- Your bed should be comfortable and used only for sleep and intimacy. Do not read or watch TV in bed and keep computers, TVs, and other gadgets out of the bedroom.
- Physical activity during the day may help you sleep, but don’t exercise within a few hours of bedtime, as this can make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Don’t eat large meals before bedtime. You may find, however, that a light snack close to bedtime helps you sleep.
- Avoid all caffeinated beverages as well as chocolate and tobacco late in the day (all three substances are stimulants).
- Avoid alcohol before bedtime.
- Avoid drinking too many fluids before bed to decrease your need to visit the bathroom during the night. You may find, however, that a small cup of herbal tea at bedtime helps you relax.
- Avoid using bright lights in your home before bedtime.
- Don’t work before bedtime and avoid any computer use.
- Find a way to relax before you want to fall asleep. Examples include taking a warm bath, listening to calming music, or light stretching.
- If you wake during the night, try lying still and relaxing in order to fall back to sleep. If, however, you’re still awake after 20 minutes, leave your bed, sit somewhere comfortable, and read or do something similarly quiet and calming until you feel sleepy again.
- Avoid taking naps after 3 p.m. Late-afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. When you do nap, do so for no more than an hour.
New research indicates that alcohol causes more sleep problems for women than men, possibly as a result of differences in metabolism.
The study involved 93 young men and women who spent two nights in a sleep lab. One night they consumed nonalcoholic drinks and the other night they consumed alcohol until they were drunk. The researchers then monitored their sleep.
Alcohol was linked to more deep sleep early in the night but more wakefulness later in the night. Although women became drowsier than men after consuming alcohol, they slept more poorly. The women had fewer hours of sleep and woke more frequently and for longer periods of time than the men. The researchers speculated that this may be due to the different ways that men and women metabolize alcohol.
The bottom line? If you want a good night’s sleep, alcohol is not your friend. To sleep well, take a few simple precautions:
- Consume alcohol early in the evening.
- Consume at least one glass of water for each glass of alcohol.
- Consume alcohol with food.
- Stop drinking several hours before bedtime.
- Narcolepsy. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website.
- Sleep Apnea. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website.
- Restless Leg Syndrome. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website.
- Your Guide to Healthy Sleep. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website.
- Arnedt JT, Rohsenow DJ, Almeida AB, et al. Sleep following alcohol intoxication in healthy, young adults: effects of sex and family history of alcoholism. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. 2011;35(5):870-78.