Many people like to drink wine, beer or other alcoholic beverages after work or in the evening, and because of the muscle (and mind) relaxation that occurs, may believe that alcohol helps them sleep.
Ironically, while a few drinks may bring on a sleepy state, they will disrupt the normal sleep cycle and create very restless sleep. The reason for this is that once asleep, the body starts to metabolise the alcohol and this affects brain activity. Alcohol in the blood stream actually disrupts the normal sleep cycle which involves cycling four or five times a night through deep, restful sleep and more active periods of dreaming and high brain activity. Alcohol disturbs the sleep pattern and makes it erratic.
Studies have found that alcohol consumed six hours before bedtime disrupts the second half of the sleep period. Active alcoholics experience specific sleep disturbances such as needing increased time to fall asleep, frequent awakenings and poorer sleep quality as well as daytime fatigue. Further, these people undergo a vicious cycle when they try to stop drinking since an abrupt reduction or end to drinking usually triggers alcohol-withdrawal difficulties as well as pronounced insomnia and sleep disturbance.
Beyond withdrawal, sleep patterns may never return to normal in people with alcoholism. After years of abstinence, alcoholics tend to sleep poorly, with increased nighttime wakefulness contributing to daytime fatigue.
In addition to the effects of alcohol on the brain, drinking high quantities of any beverage before bed is going to increase the need for urination during the night, creating a further sleep disruption.
The occasional evening of drinks is not a problem, but a pattern of heavy drinking can set up insomnia problems. It can also lead to sleep apnea where the throat’s soft tissues can relax to the point of obstructing breathing during sleep.
Cutting back on alcohol consumption, or stopping it entirely is advisable for people keen to restore restful sleep.