Recent research published in the journal, Sleep, indicates that if you want to get more sleep at night, cut back on both nicotine and alcohol at least four hours before heading to bed. Researchers found that both substances can negatively affect sleep quantity and quality. Contrary to popular belief, it appears caffeinated beverages like coffee don’t have a significant impact on sleep patterns for the majority of people.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University along with support from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard University, Emory University, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health, looked at evening alcohol, caffeine and nicotine consumption among 785 African-Americans. The study looked at the participants for a combined 5,164 days.

Researchers used sensors to monitor sleep patterns, and participants also entered information into their sleep diaries.

The Findings

Researchers found that people using nicotine or alcohol within four hours before going to bed had the biggest impact on their sleep cycles. This was true even when controlling for other factors like stress, age and gender.

Nicotine especially created challenges for people with insomnia. The study showed the use of nighttime nicotine led to more than a 40-minute sleep reduction overall.

The research team said African Americans haven’t previously been well-represented in sleep studies looking at the effects of nicotine, alcohol and caffeine to this point. The research team released a press release saying African Americans are more likely to experience problematic sleep patterns than non-Hispanic whites, as well as more detrimental effects on their health because of inadequate sleep.

Nicotine is a stimulant, which is why it likely has such a significant impact on sleep. With alcohol and sleep, the problem may lay primarily in how the body processes it.

Alcohol Metabolism Results In Sleep Loss

While we traditionally think of alcohol as being something that can help people sleep and as a depressant, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Alcohol is metabolized into the bloodstream through the stomach and is also absorbed by the small intestines. Alcohol metabolism acts as a stimulant while someone is drinking. As someone’s blood alcohol content (BAC) goes up, they may feel excited or elated. It’s not until BAC starts to decline that someone might start to feel more tired.

How long does it take to metabolize alcohol? The body can metabolize around 20 milligrams per deciliter of alcohol per hour. To give a better idea, alcohol metabolism of a small shot of liquor might take one hour, while it could take several hours if you had several drinks. If you had alcohol and then tried to go right to sleep, you might still be in the phase of alcohol metabolism that leads to increased energy, therefore problematic sleep.

Reducing Alcohol Consumption Before Bed Improves Sleep

Other studies have shown similar relationships between alcohol and sleep. Some people who drink alcohol and go to sleep may be able to initially fall asleep, but it reduces rapid eye movement sleep (REM). The more you drink before going to bed, the more the effect between alcohol and REM sleep and alcohol and not sleeping. REM disruptions can cause daytime drowsiness and problems with concentration.

Even if you think alcohol is helping you sleep, you may not realize how poor the quality of your sleep is. Alcohol can also slow breathing and can contribute to or worsen sleep apnea.

If you reduce alcohol consumption before bed, you may be able to get better sleep quality and more sleep.

Trouble Reducing Alcohol Consumption?

If you rely on alcohol as a crutch to help you go to sleep, or at least you think it’s helping you, you may need to seek help from a local professional. One of the key signs of addiction is the inability to stop or cut back even though you know detrimental effects are occurring as a result.

Other signs of alcohol addiction can include:

  • Developing a tolerance and needing to drink more to get the desired effects.
  • Significant amounts of time spent drinking or recovering from drinking.
  • Trying to hide your alcohol use or minimize it.
  • Alcohol use causes problems in your relationship or other areas of your life.
  • You want to cut back but find you aren’t able to.