Calling all sheep. Keep those fluffy tails out to pasture.

When it comes to catching some z's, wine rules the roost. Alcohol's sedative properties relaxes the body and summons the sandman way faster than counting those common (albeit cute) barnyard animals ever could. But that doesn't necessarily mean booze promotes better sleep. Studies show both positive and negative effects from having a nightcap.

If you drink alcoholic beverages infrequently, having just one drink close to bedtime may help you fall asleep more quickly and may also help you stay asleep longer. However, if you are a regular drinker, your body has probably built up a tolerance to alcohol and you will need more than one drink to get you to sleep initially, and that increased amount of alcohol may cause sleep disturbances that wake you up throughout the night. And the next-day drowsiness you normally feel from not getting a good night's sleep for any reason may be worse if alcohol contributed to lost sleep the night before.

Somewhere in the middle of the night, alcohol switches from a relaxant to a stimulant that causes many people to wake up (often to use the bathroom). Waking up during the second half of night after drinking alcohol is likely due to a rebound effect, according to a study published in a 2001 issue of Alcohol Research and Health. First, your body makes adjustments in the presence of alcohol in order to allow you to fall asleep and sleep normally in the early stages of your sleep cycle. Sleep disruption then occurs later in the night, when your body has finished metabolizing alcohol and there is none left in your blood.

This same study concluded that, while heavy drinking disturbs the sleep of healthy people who normally sleep well, one or two drinks may help an insomniac sleep better overall. At the same time, this may only be helpful for insomniacs who don't often drink.

But there's an important caveat here. Like anyone else, insomniacs can develop a tolerance for alcohol that leads to a need to drink excessively in order for it to be effective. And that additional alcohol will ultimately disrupt sleep and cause excessive drowsiness the next day. Disrupted sleep does not have the restorative benefits of normal sleep-rebuilding tissue and bone; strengthening the immune system and sharpening your ability to focus and concentrate.

How to Get a Good Night's Sleep

The bottom line, according to Liesa Harte, MD, a functional medicine physician in Austin, TX, is there are better ways to encourage a good night's sleep.

  • Make sure you get enough exercise during the day.
  • Avoid eating large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime.
  • Stay away from caffeine for at least four to six hours before you plan to go to sleep.
  • Maintain good sleep hygiene meaning no noise, no lights, comfortable bedding, room temperature on the cool side, and going to bed—and waking up—at the same time every day, to establish and maintain a routine.

Liesa Harte, MD, reviewed this article.



Roehrs, T. and Roth, T. "Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use."  Alcohol Research and Health  2001 25(2):101-109. Web 13 Feb 2013