Alcohol and sleep
Having trouble sleeping? Find out why alcohol makes you tired and how alcohol could be contributing to your sleepless nights.
Alcohol might help you fall asleep, but even a couple of drinks can affect the quality of your sleep.
Regular drinking can affect the quality of your sleep making you feel tired and sluggish. This is because drinking disrupts your sleep cycle.1
Some people may find alcohol helps them get to sleep initially, but this is outweighed by the negative effect on sleep quality through the night.
The alcohol in your system will mean you spend less time in the important Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep,2 with the end result that you wake up feeling less refreshed. Even just a couple of drinks will have an effect.
Several sleepless nights can have an impact on your day-to-day mental function - for example, your mood, concentration and decision-making.
Of course, if you’ve had a lot to drink, you may well wake up with a hangover too. So, as well as feeling tired, you might find you have a headache, or you’re more stressed and irritable.
If you get a hangover, only time will help you sober up, but you could avoid getting one in the first place by limiting how many alcoholic drinks you have, and alternating with water or soft drinks, to help avoid dehydration.
When you drink alcohol, you may find you have to get up in the night to go to the toilet.
Because alcohol is a diuretic, it encourages the body to lose extra fluid not only in urine, but through sweat too, making dehydration worse.
Drinking more than the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines (no more than 14 units a week, spread over three or more days with several drink-free days and no bingeing) may mean you wake up the next day feeling like you haven’t had any rest at all.
Having alcohol-free days can help - you should be sleeping better and find it easier to wake up in the morning. And the benefits go much further too – cutting back on alcohol and drinking in line with the UK low risk drinking guidelines is likely to lower your risk of serious diseases such as several types of cancer, heart disease, liver disease, high blood pressure and stroke and is likely to improve your overall physical and mental health.
Temporary insomnia is a common side-effect of alcohol withdrawal.3 Find out more about alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and what to do if you experience them.
More seriously, alcohol (as well as smoking and being overweight) increases the chance you will suffer from sleep apnoea5 – a condition that narrows your airways and can stop you breathing properly at night.6
Without treatment, sleep apnoea can lead to type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and increase your chance of having a stroke. It may also affect your mood and concentration, and make it more likely you will have an accident because you’re tired.
If you choose to drink alcohol, try to avoid it too close to bedtime.
Giving your body time to process the alcohol you've drunk before you go to bed can improve the quality of your sleep.7
On average it takes your body an hour to process one unit, but this can vary widely from person to person. And the more you drink, the longer it takes – so, six units of alcohol would take the average person six hours to process.
Arming yourself with strategies and tips can help you or a loved one take small steps towards big results.
 Roehrs, T. and Roth, T., (2001) Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. Alcohol research and Health, 25(2), pp.101-109.
 Simou, E., Britton, J., & Leonardi-Bee, J. (2018). Alcohol and the risk of sleep apnoea: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep medicine, 42, 38–46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2017.12.005
Last Reviewed: 1st November 2022
Next Review due: 31st October 2025