Why does alcohol make you tired but disrupt sleep?

by (5773)
Answered on September 12, 2014
Created August 14, 2011 at 12:05 PM

When I have a glass of wine or two at night it definitely makes me sleepy and it's less than 5 minutes before my head hits the pillow and I fall a sleep. However, I normally wake up 1-2 times in the middle of the night when drinking wine. How can something make you so tired but disrupt sleep?

2939 · August 14, 2011 at 12:26 PM


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5 Answers

5801 · August 14, 2011 at 12:44 PM


There is a real difference between making you go to sleep and sleeping well. Studies have shown that alcohol does, indeed, make you go to sleep more quickly, at least if it???s not drunk in excess ??? it has a natural sedative effect. However, once you are asleep it disrupts what scientists call ???sleep architecture??? ??? the pattern of sleep and brain waves that leaves you feeling refreshed in the morning. We need the right balance of REM sleep (dreaming sleep) and non-REM sleep (including deep sleep), and alcohol disturbs this.

???Alcohol can mean that sleep is no longer refreshing, because the brain can???t perform the normal restorative job it does during the night,??? says Jessica Alexander, of the Sleep Council, which provides information about sleep and health.

During the first portion of sleep, alcohol drunk within an hour of bedtime increases the proportion of non-REM sleep and decreases the proportion of REM sleep, but it doesn???t greatly disrupt sleeping patterns. The problems come mainly in the second half of sleep, when REM falls off again and sleep becomes more disturbed. People taking part in sleep experiments have reported that they sleep more superficially a few hours into their sleep ??? and it has been observed that their limb movements increase, their temperature fluctuates, they are more dehydrated and are more likely to awaken from dreams. This may be partly because, in the second half of the night, your body is suffering alcohol-withdrawal symptoms once it has processed the alcohol you put in your bloodstream before going to sleep. It may also be a side-effect of some of the toxins produced by the breakdown of alcohol.

5242 · August 14, 2011 at 4:04 PM

It suppresses growth hormone but it generally promotes serotonin which then turns over into melatonin. This causes you to be tired (melatonin) but not to be able to do adequate repair while in sleep (suppressed growth hormone)

2987 · August 14, 2011 at 3:04 PM

I find that a largish dose (three or four right before sleep usually) of aspirin helps immensely - in particular I don't wake at 3AM. My theory was that it was a small (or large!) headache waking me and that the aspirin was protecting me from discomfort when I'm closer to the 'surface'. If I went to bed earlier I might take more, to last. For me, however, alcohol is usually quite energizing so I'm usually up later - and probably drinking more, so I still take a higher dose.

For a while I had switched to ibuprofen since less was needed to last through the critical period of time, but I understand that it is more toxic to the liver, and that aspirin isn't nearly as bad as the pharmaceutical industry would like us to believe (they don't make money on aspirin, and it competes against products that provide revenue). Although I don't, I could take very large amounts with no discomfort. YMMV.

I could be completely wrong on the mechanism but it seems a workable analogy regardless.

3631 · August 14, 2011 at 4:37 PM

mth is absolutely right, but I think additionally alcohol affects blood sugar such that hypoglycemia can result? possibly interrupting sleep? maybe someone who knows the science will chime in...

453 · August 14, 2011 at 12:25 PM

In less technical terms, it has an initial depressive effect, but as your system processes the alcohol your body gets 'wake up' signals.

2939 · August 14, 2011 at 12:26 PM


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