Can alcohol cause sleep disorders?

This question was asked in Irvine, California on 01/17/2013.
I've been having trouble sleeping for many years. I usually have a drink or two each night before I go to sleep. It helps me go to sleep. But I wake up feeling tired almost every day. I can't concentrate at work. Could the alcohol be causing my bad sleep? I try to go to sleep without having a drink but I never seem to get much sleep when I do that and end up more tired.

Doctors Answers (5)

Jana P. Kaimal, MD, FCCP
Answered on: 4/5/2013 7

Unfortunately, alcohol is used as a common a sleep aid in the general population. A number of sleep related surveys over the past 2 decades indicate that between 25% and 28% of insomniacs at one time or another used alcohol to help them fall asleep. Many of these individuals reported that the alcohol was initially effective for their sleep problems. When alcohol is ingested, it tends to, in most healthy adults, lead to more rapid sleep onset time or initiation of sleep. It increases the amount of non REM sleep (including light, stage 1 and 2 sleep), and reduces the amount of REM sleep we get (also known as dream sleep). Restricting or reducing the amount of REM sleep we get can have a detrimental effect on our overall sleep quality. Simply put, when we are REM sleep deprived, we lack the good quality, restorative sleep. As alcohol is quickly metabolized in our bodies, the blood concentraton levels of alcohol are negligible about halfway through our night. This results in some withdrawal symptoms, which translates to an increase or return of shallow, light sleep the second half of the night. Additionally a person may experience repeated awakenings, nightmares or vivid dreams, night sweats, and overall restless, tossing turning type of sleep. In summary, although alcohol may induce sleep more effectively in certain individuals, it almost always impairs sleep during the second half of the night. Such sleep disturbances here can contribute to daytime fatigue, daytime sleepiness, impaired concentration, and drowsy driving. On a more serious note, chronically relying on alcohol as a sleep aid leads to an increased risk of alcohol dependence and alcoholism. High doses of alcohol cause significant sedation in the early part of the night, and therefore can contribute to sleep related breathing disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea. It certainly sounds like your alcohol consumption could be part of the bigger issue of your poor sleep quality, and daytime symptoms. It is most reasonable to discuss this issue with your medical provider or contact a board certified sleep specialist in order to thoroughly evaluate your Insomnia and discuss an individual treatment plan for you.

SomnoDiagnostics, Inc.
Answered on: 1/25/2013

Thank you for your question. Alcohol can exacerbate most sleep disorders. In this case, we would recommend you schedule an appointment to see Dr. Gibson, who is a Board Certified Sleep Specialist.

J. Douglas Hudson, MD, DABSM
Answered on: 1/21/2013

Alcohol in any form, even in over the counter agents such as NyQuil, produce sedation and help you fall asleep. One drink may not significantly adversely affect sleep but when it wears off there can be a rebound insomnia. One drink an hour before lights out helps some persons "relax" and allows for normal sleep inducing mechanisms to work. This is not to encourage you to use alcohol but realistically alcohol in small doses doesn't last very long and you most likely have a sleep disorder such as periodic limb movements or obstructive sleep apnea disrupting your sleep patterns.

Jeannine Louise Gingras, MD
Answered on: 1/21/2013

Yes, alcohol changes the architecture of sleep so that you do not get the normal amounts of "good sleep". of course, it depends on the amount as well.

Courtney Whitney, DO
Answered on: 1/21/2013

Alcohol can assist with sleep onset, but it can make sleep maintenance difficult. It reduces deep sleep and REM sleep. Alcohol also worsens snoring and sleep apnea. Withdraw from alcohol can also cause insomnia. One to two drinks before bed usually doesn't have a tremendous impact on sleep.