Why Does Alcohol Keep Me Awake At Night?

After a few drinks, we’ve all had that restless night where we lay in bed with eyes wide open, minds racing, and wondering why we can’t fall asleep. Why does alcohol keep me awake?

Alcohol, which many people consider a sedative, has the opposite effect on our ability to fall asleep, which is puzzling.

Why, if alcohol is supposed to help us relax and unwind, does it keep us awake? Let’s dive in.

why does alcohol keep me awake

The Initial Sedative Effect Of Alcohol

We need to first acknowledge alcohol’s initial sedative effect to understand how and why it can cause sleep difficulties. 

Alcohol makes you sleepy and relaxes you initially because it slows down brain function by acting as a central nervous system depressant. This is why, after a few drinks, you could feel sleepy and at ease.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that has a calming impact on the brain, is produced in greater quantities when alcohol is consumed. GABA slows down neuronal activity, resulting in drowsiness and relaxation.

Learn more about the role of GABA here.

Disruption Of Sleep Cycles

The story doesn’t end there, though. Alcohol may speed up your ability to fall asleep, but it seriously interferes with your body’s natural sleep cycle.

Rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep are two stages of the complex sleep process. These phases are essential for restorative sleep and several body processes, such as the storage of memories and emotional processing.

According to the Sleep Foundation, drinking lessens the time spent in REM sleep, which is linked to vivid dreams and vital cognitive functions. The time spent in lighter NREM sleep periods is instead extended.

As a result, even though you slept for a sufficient time, you can feel more worn out and less refreshed when you get up. Hello, hangover.

Impact On Sleep Architecture

Alcohol can cause the sleep architecture to be disrupted, which might result in frequent nighttime awakenings.

Even though you might not remember these awakenings, they might cause sleep cycles not to develop normally, which can cause grogginess and restlessness in the morning.

Additionally, alcohol has diuretic qualities, which increase urine production and may cause nocturnal awakenings for toilet breaks.

Body’s Reaction to Alcohol Metabolism

why does alcohol keep me awake - alcohol metabolism

How your body processes alcohol is a major factor in why it keeps you awake. The liver processes alcohol through several steps, including converting ethanol to acetaldehyde and acetate. Blood sugar levels may fluctuate as a result of this procedure.

Your body may release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol when blood sugar levels fall. These hormones have been shown to make you more alert and may make it difficult for you to fall and stay asleep.

The production of these stress hormones can also cause an elevated heart rate and even anxiety symptoms, which can further impair sleep.

Hyperactivity Of The Brain

The brain’s hyperactivity also exacerbates alcohol-related sleep issues. While alcohol initially reduces brain activity by increasing GABA production, it can also cause glutamate, another neurotransmitter that is in charge of excitatory impulses in the brain, to be overproduced.

The rise in glutamate can counteract the calming effects of GABA, resulting in hyperarousal and increased brain activity.

Individual Differences

It’s important to note that the effects of alcohol on sleep can vary widely from person to person.

Factors such as genetics, tolerance to alcohol, and the amount and timing of alcohol consumption all play a role.

Some individuals might be more resilient to the sleep-disrupting effects of alcohol, while others might experience pronounced disturbances even after a small amount.

Better Sleep Isn’t The Only Benefit From Drinking Less Alcohol

If you’ve read this far you surely know that removing alcohol or cutting back has plenty of benefits.

Over at The Zing Collective, they’ve come up with the top 10 benefits of going 50 days without alcohol. Check it out!

Tips for Better Sleep if You Choose to Drink

why does alcohol keep me awake - tips for better sleep

If you enjoy the occasional drink but want to minimize its impact on your sleep, there are several strategies you can employ to promote better rest. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Practice Moderation: The key to minimizing alcohol’s effect on your sleep is moderation. Limit the alcohol consumed in one sitting to reduce its disruptive impact on your sleep cycles. Drink one non-alcoholic drink with one alcoholic drink.
  1. Set a Cut-Off Time: Avoid drinking alcohol too close to bedtime. Aim to finish your last drink at least a few hours before you plan to go to sleep. This gives your body time to metabolize the alcohol before you hit the hay.
  1. Stay Hydrated: Alcohol can lead to dehydration, which can exacerbate its negative effects on sleep. Drink plenty of water throughout the evening to counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
  1. Avoid Mixing with Stimulants: Avoid combining alcohol with other stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. These substances can heighten the arousing effects of alcohol, making it even harder to fall asleep.
  1. Choose Your Drinks Wisely: Some alcoholic beverages contain more alcohol than others. Opt for drinks with lower alcohol content to reduce the overall impact on your sleep.
  1. Eat Before Drinking: Having a meal before consuming alcohol can slow down its absorption in your body. This can help prevent rapid spikes in blood alcohol levels that might interfere with your sleep.
  1. Create a Relaxing Pre-Sleep Routine: Engage in calming activities before bed to counteract the potentially arousing effects of alcohol. Activities like reading, gentle stretching, or practicing relaxation techniques can help prepare your body for sleep.
  1. Practice Mindfulness: If you lie awake after drinking, practice mindfulness techniques to calm your racing thoughts. Focusing on your breath or practicing progressive muscle relaxation can help quiet your mind.
  1. Know Your Limits: Pay attention to how alcohol affects your sleep individually. Some people might be more sensitive to its effects than others. Consider adjusting your consumption habits if you notice a poor sleep pattern after drinking.
  1. Consider Alternatives: If you’re concerned about the impact of alcohol on your sleep, consider alternatives. Non-alcoholic drinks, herbal teas, or infused water can provide a sense of relaxation without the sleep-disrupting effects of alcohol.

Create A Healthier Sleeping Habit

While alcohol might initially make you feel drowsy, its impact on sleep is far from refreshing. The disruption of sleep cycles, the body’s reaction to alcohol metabolism, and the brain’s hyperactivity all contribute to alcohol-induced sleep disturbances. 

If you’re looking for a good night’s sleep, it’s wise to be mindful of your alcohol consumption and its potential effects on your sleep quality. You can also opt for taking non-alcoholic drinks instead, which is a healthier option!

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Why Does Alcohol Keep Me Awake FAQs

How do you keep alcohol from keeping you awake?

If you enjoy the occasional drink but want to minimize its impact on your sleep, there are several strategies you can employ to promote better rest. Here are some tips to consider:
1. Practice Moderation
2. Set a Cut-Off Time
3. Stay Hydrated
4. Avoid Mixing with Stimulants
5. Choose Your Drinks Wisely
6. Eat Before Drinking
7. Create a Relaxing Pre-Sleep Routine
8. Practice Mindfulness
9. Know Your Limits
10. Consider Alternatives

Is it better to sleep off alcohol or stay awake?

If you’re heavily intoxicated, it might be safer to sleep it off, especially if you’re not in a controlled environment. However, if you’re moderately intoxicated and feel relatively alert, staying awake, hydrating, and eating can help you feel better sooner. Remember that the best approach is to avoid excessive alcohol consumption in the first place to prevent these situations altogether.

Why do I get hyper when drunk?

The brain’s hyperactivity also exacerbates alcohol-related sleep issues. While alcohol initially reduces brain activity by increasing GABA production, it can also cause glutamate, another neurotransmitter that is in charge of excitatory impulses in the brain, to be overproduced. The rise in glutamate can counteract the calming effects of GABA, resulting in hyperarousal and increased brain activity.

How long should a drunk person sleep?

A drunk person’s sleep duration can vary depending on several factors, including the amount of alcohol consumed, the individual’s tolerance to alcohol, and their overall health.

Generally, if a person has had moderate alcohol and is not heavily intoxicated, a regular night’s sleep of around 7-9 hours is ideal. However, if someone has consumed alcohol and is heavily intoxicated, they might need more time to recover and sleep it off.

What alcohol makes you sleepy?

Alcohol is often associated with inducing drowsiness and promoting sleepiness due to its soothing effects on the central nervous system. However, it’s important to note that all types of alcohol have the potential to make you feel sleepy if consumed in sufficient quantities. The soothing effect of alcohol is primarily attributed to its impact on the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which has a calming and relaxing effect on the brain.