Does drinking alcohol help me sleep? A friendly nightcap?

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No. It can feel like alcohol helps sleep. Alcohol acts like a sedative so you fall asleep faster but that’s all the help you get.  From then it just causes problems. 

Alcohol causes sleep fragmentation. It causes you to wake up for very brief periods (seconds) very frequently.  You’ll probably not even notice these awakenings they are so brief. They do however, disrupt sleep and stop you progressing through the sleep cycles you need to wake feeling refreshed.

Alcohol – or more accurately the chemicals it’s broken down into as its metabolised – block REM sleep. Scientists haven’t yet found or been able to create a compound as effective as alcohol at preventing REM sleep! Just think about that for a second. We can’t recreate the damage alcohol causes to REM sleep.  REM is key for many brain functions, from memory integration to creativity.

Even a small amount of alcohol will mean you wake up feeling un-rested. 

Written by
Sam Billington

Sam is our sleep guru. I am fascinated by sleep and I've used my science training to research and learn about sleep. I have been providing sleep advice and personal sleep plans for years. My day job is Head of Workplace Culture in Defra, I live in London with my wife and have a PhD in Ecology and Biology.