Skip the nightcap: how alcohol affects your sleep. | MOBE

Skip the nightcap: how alcohol affects your sleep.

Having a drink before bedtime may sound like a good idea. After all, the name for this kind of drink—a nightcap—conjures the image of a cozy night’s rest. But alcohol, even in small amounts, can interfere with your sleep. In this article, you’ll see why—and learn how to minimize the negative effects of alcohol on your sleep.

Sleep is crucial for overall well-being.

We all know how we feel after a bad night’s sleep: sluggish, struggling to concentrate, and not quite ourselves. That’s because sleeping well is critical for our bodies to recover, repair, and grow. It’s also a time for our brains to learn, create, and develop memories.1 Getting high-quality, uninterrupted sleep is important. And the total amount of your sleep matters, too: seven to nine hours per night is a good goal for most people.2

How alcohol causes poor sleep.

Alcohol is a depressant—which slows your brain down—and a sedative, so it can help you fall asleep. But that doesn’t mean you’ll sleep well. Alcohol interrupts your body’s normal sleep cycle, which can affect your sleep in many ways.

  • Sleep interruptions: After you fall asleep, your body continues to metabolize the alcohol you’ve consumed. And that can disrupt your sleep, causing you to wake more often during the night.
  • Less REM sleep: Alcohol reduces the amount of time we spend in the REM stage of sleep when our brains consolidate memories and enhance learning and creativity.
  • Insomnia: After as few as three consecutive days of drinking before bed, it can be more challenging to fall asleep.3
  • Sleep apnea: Alcohol relaxes the throat muscles, which can increase your risk of sleep apnea—a condition where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night. In fact, frequent or high alcohol consumption can increase your risk by 25%.4 If sleep apnea is already a concern, alcohol makes it a bigger one.
  • Medication interactions: If you take prescription or over-the-counter medications, alcohol could interact with them to cause drowsiness, slowed breathing, or other dangerous side effects that can impact sleep.

How to reduce the effects of alcohol on your sleep.

As with so many things related to alcohol, moderation is key. If you are going to consume alcohol, here are some ways to reduce the impact it can have on your sleep:

  • Avoid drinking for four hours prior to sleeping.
  • Alternate between drinking an alcoholic beverage and one that does not contain alcohol – this can reduce the amount of alcohol in your system and help you stay hydrated.
  • Eat food along with alcohol to reduce the concentration of alcohol in your system.
  • Ask your pharmacist or health care provider if alcohol could interact with your medications, so you can avoid any potentially dangerous side effects.

If you’d like to learn more ways to improve your sleep, avoid alcohol-related medication interactions, and boost your overall well-being, a MOBE Guide or Pharmacist can help. Get started today.


1. “Sleep, Learning, and Memory,” Harvard Medical School,

2. “How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?” National Sleep Foundation,

3. Michael D. Stein and Peter D. Friedman, “Disturbed Sleep and Its Relationship to Alcohol Use,” Substance Abuse 26, no. 1 (2006): 1–13,

4. Evangelia Simou et al., “Alcohol and the Risk of Sleep Apnoea: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Sleep Medicine 42, (February 2018): 38–46,