How Long to Wait Between Drinking Alcohol and Bedtime

Nightcaps may fragment sleep and contribute to insomnia and snoring

If you drink alcohol at night and have trouble falling or staying asleep, you might wonder how long you should wait between your last drink and going to bed so your sleep isn't impacted.

Two glasses of red wine.
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This article explores how alcohol affects your quality of sleep. It also covers what symptoms you might have if you don’t wait long enough between having your last drink and going to bed.

How Alcohol Affects Sleep

Alcohol may be consumed in beer, wine, and hard liquors like vodka, rum, gin, and whiskey. It is more often consumed at night, also called a nightcap, and may negatively affect your sleep. While alcohol can make you feel tired at first, it can also disturb your sleep as it wears off.

When it comes to sleep, alcohol:

  • Enhances the brain's levels of a chemical called adenosine, which can lead to sleepiness
  • Relaxes the airway and can worsen snoring, as well as pauses in breathing known as obstructive sleep apnea
  • Wears off quickly, which can lead to frequent, short awakenings
  • Can interrupt rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is important for dreaming, learning, and memory processing

Wait Between Drinking and Bedtime

It is recommended that alcohol not be consumed in the last four hours before bedtime. Even though alcohol may help you fall asleep, it interferes with the quality of your sleep.

Moreover, it can take one hour for your body to process one serving of alcohol. If you've had several drinks, it's best if your last drink is finished at least several hours before you go to bed.

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol Right Before Bed?

If you drink alcohol right before bed, you may experience:

If you binge drink, or drink large amounts very quickly, you can alter your melatonin levels for up to a week afterward. Melatonin is a hormone that your body makes to help regulate sleep.

If you sleep better when you don't drink, you might consider stopping alcohol use entirely. However, if you continue to have sleeping difficulties, reach out to a sleep specialist.

It's important to treat sleep disorders such as insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep) or sleep apnea (when breathing stops multiple time a night) if they are present.

Summary

Whether you have had one or multiple drinks, it's best to wait for your body to fully process the alcohol before heading to bed. In general, try to avoid drinking alcohol four hours before you plan on going to sleep.

Even though alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it may impact your overall quality of sleep. If you go to bed with alcohol still in your system, you may experience headaches, frequent awakenings, night sweats, more intense snoring, and nightmares.

If alcohol continues to disrupt your overall sleep quality, you may consider cutting it out entirely, or limiting your intake before bedtime. If you've stopped drinking alcohol, but are still having sleep issues, be sure to reach out to a sleep specialist.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does alcohol make you sleepy?

    Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, also called a sedative. Sedatives cause your brain activity to slow down and can make you feel relaxed. This may allow you to fall asleep more quickly, however it can greatly impact your sleep quality.

  • How does alcohol disrupt your sleep?

    Alcohol may reduce REM sleep in the first half of the night, creating an imbalance in your sleep cycle. This can decrease your sleep quality and may lead to less sleep and more awakenings.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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