Why do we suffer from insomnia after drinking?

August 13, 2020 5 mins read
Why do we suffer from insomnia after drinking?

Experiencing insomnia after drinking is just one of the many side effects that people experience when they overdo it on the alcohol. Consuming too much alcohol can make you feel nauseated, cause digestive distress, impair your motor function, dehydrate the body, cause breathing problems, and even poison the body. Not to mention the fact that many people do and say things that they later regret when they are under the influence of alcohol!

Even though a lot of people turn to alcohol to help them fall asleep, doing so actually dramatically interferes with the quality of your sleep at night and will not be doing you any favours in the end. To help you get a better understanding of how this happens, let us explore how both the quality and quantity of your sleep are harmed when drinking.

Alcohol disrupts your circadian rhythm

Drinking alcohol can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. It operates on a 24-hour timeline and what you do throughout the day dramatically affects it. Before the invention of electricity and the alarm clock, most humans relied on their circadian rhythms to let them know when the best time was to wake up.

The body’s circadian rhythm is very important in terms of regulating various bodily processes such as metabolism, blood sugar control, and proper brain function.

It is easy to see how drinking alcohol can disrupt the circadian rhythm and cause insomnia if you consider the fact that alcohol consumption is often paired with social occasions where people stay up way beyond their usual bedtime and sacrifice sleep for the sake of being at the party.

This alone is enough to disrupt your sleep cycles and cause insomnia after drinking, but it is not just going to bed much later that causes adverse effects. Alcohol impacts the synchronisation of the body’s internal clock and circadian rhythm, even just after one night. The knock-on effect of this can be:

Poor liver function

It is common knowledge that drinking a lot of alcohol damages the liver and can cause poor liver function. Many people who get liver transplants or need one have damaged their livers beyond repair without medical intervention by drinking too much alcohol. While one night of drinking will not cause permanent damage to your liver, it will still put extra strain on your liver when having to process it.


Drinking alcohol might feel good in the moment. It can increase your levels of the feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine shortly after consumption. Still, then it can cause these levels to drop and even become depleted after a few hours or the next day and make you feel down, depressed, or anxious. Unfortunately, many people turn to liquor when feeling depressed or anxious, so it becomes a vicious cycle of raising and dropping serotonin levels.

Disrupted sleep cycle

Alcohol interferes with the amount of light and deep sleep that you get throughout the night. Each of these cycles is crucial for maintaining optimal health and for performing physically and mentally.

Sleep apnea

One of the effects of consuming alcohol is that it can cause sleep apnea as well as other sleep problems. This is because drinking alcohol can cause your air passages to narrow. This is especially common in people who already snore and struggle with sleep apnea, but even someone who does not can experience sleep apnea after just one night of drinking.

If you are somebody who does have sleep apnea, it is important to be extra cautious about drinking alcoholic beverages as struggling to breathe even further could be dangerous.

Frequent trips to the bathroom

Alcohol is a diuretic and can trigger insomnia by increasing the frequency of urination throughout the night. This mostly happens in the second half of the night. Not only that but drinking too much can make you feel nauseated and lead to you needing to go to the bathroom frequently.

How can alcohol insomnia disrupt your sleep cycle?

Getting enough sleep, especially deep sleep is very important to restore and repair tissue and cells. Alcohol lowers the amount of deep sleep that an individual gets after consuming it. Consuming alcohol inhibits melatonin production in the brain, which then disrupts your sleep cycle.

Because serotonin levels drop significantly a few hours after drinking, this can also cause insomnia, as having enough serotonin in the brain is important for helping the body feel relaxed enough to sleep. If serotonin levels are low, cortisol can rise and then make you wake up.

Even just one night of disrupted sleep can negatively impact your body. A good example is the fact that only one night of not getting enough sleep will increase your ghrelin levels significantly. Ghrelin is a hunger hormone, which means that you are more likely to eat more the next day. Insomnia after drinking will also make you more likely to make poor decisions when it comes to food and to reach for junk food.

One night of insomnia after drinking will make you feel more tired and exhausted the next day, which will then make you feel sleepy at work and increase your chances of making mistakes because you struggle to focus, or worse, getting into an accident.

This is not to say that you can never consume liquor again but that you need to be aware of how the consumption of it will impact your sleep cycles and ultimately, your health. If you drink alcoholic beverages daily, it is likely that each night is a night of impaired sleep and that over time, you will probably start to notice the effects of insomnia more and more.

If you have been dealing with alcohol insomnia and want to improve the quality of your sleep, keep the amount of liquor you consume in mind and consider cutting it out entirely to see how it affects your sleep.