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why does alcohol make you sleepy

Evidence based

Why Does Alcohol Make You Sleepy?

Afterdrink Author Kathy Caldwell
Kathy Caldwell

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  1. This article is based on currently available scientific evidence at the time of writing and fact checked.
  2. All referenced studies and research papers are from reputable and relevant peer-reviewed journals or academic associations.
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  4. This article contains scientific references. The numbers in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.
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Evidence based

Ever wondered why alcohol makes you sleepy?

Alcohol has many different effects on people. In some cases, making people hyperactive, subdued, happy or even angry.

For some, becoming sleepy after even small amounts of alcohol can get in the way of social occasions.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at all the different reasons why alcohol makes you sleepy.

Table of contents

Why does alcohol make you sleepy?

Most of the effects of alcohol can be explained by the stages of being drunk. Simply put, the higher the alcohol concentrations in your blood, the greater alcohol affects your vital organs.

When you drink alcohol, it’s absorbed through your stomach and small intestinal lining and your blood alcohol levels start to rise within 90 seconds.

Your brain and nervous system are the main areas where alcohol exerts most of its actions. And it’s primarily here where it makes you sleepy.

Alcohol is a nervous system depressant

Alcohol is a nervous system depressant. It acts on several different receptors in the brain including one of the main inhibitory receptors, GABA.(1)

In general, alcohol makes your brain work more slowly. As a result, this leads to slower reaction times, impaired mental performance and reduced alertness.

This sedative action of alcohol is what makes you sleepy.(2) But of course, this is highly dependent on your environment. If you’re out with friends partying, the excitatory side of your nervous system counteracts the sedative effect. On the other hand, if you’re at home in your pajamas watching boring TV, you’ll feel that the alcohol you’re drinking is making you very sleepy.

Melatonin in alcohol

There are studies that have shown that alcoholic drinks contain varying amounts of melatonin. For example, one study looked at 17 brands of beer to find that they all contained melatonin.(3)

Another study showed that melatonin is made naturally as a by-product of winemaking.(4) Melatonin is a well-known hormone with an important role in the sleep-wake cycles and supplements are, in some cases, used to help with short-term sleep problems.(5)

Therefore, melatonin in alcohol has been highlighted as one of the potential reasons why alcohol makes you sleepy.(6)

That said, it’s an area that hasn’t been researched much and scientists are still unsure if the small amounts of melatonin found in alcohol have any relevance to sleep.

In summary, alcohol is a powerful nervous system depressant and is the main reason why it makes you feel sleepy.

Which alcohol makes you more sleepy?

There are strong beliefs around which alcohol type makes you more sleepy, and red wine usually tops the list around the world.

In 2016, there was a large scale study that looked at alcohol consumption around the world.(7) Overall, they had 29,836 respondents from 21 countries. And their results were fascinating:

Over half of all respondents associated drinking spirits with uplifting emotions of energy and confidence.

On the other hand, 60% of respondents said they were likely to feel more relaxed and sleepy when drinking red wine.

They also mention that the emotions associated with drinking are strongly associated with social, environmental and cultural circumstances.

For example, people commonly drink wine with dinner which is usually in a more relaxed setting. Whereas doing shots is never really associated with a Netflix and chill night in!

In summary, from the survey, they found that red wine and beer were the most likely drinks to make people feel sleepy. But the reason for this is still unclear and is probably related to cultural associations and your environment.

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Alcohol that doesn’t make you sleepy

If you’re looking for a type of alcohol that will not make you sleepy, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

The sedative effect of alcohol is unavoidable. It’s meant to make you more relaxed and sleepy.

That said, there are cocktails that contain high amounts of caffeine such as the much-loved espresso martini.

Furthermore, your choice of mixer can also have a significant caffeine load. For example, if you’re having vodka is mixed with a caffeinated drink like red bull or coca-cola, it’s clearly going to perk you up.

With that said, it’s important to mention that counteracting alcohol’s sedative effect with caffeine can have detrimental side-effects.

There are studies that dub mixing alcohol and caffeine as the “perfect storm” because in some ways they reinforce one another and therefore lead to excess drinking.(8)

Sleepy the day after drinking alcohol

Being sleepy the day after drinking alcohol should be expected and there are several reasons for it.

Firstly, alcohol is well-known to disrupt your sleep. It does so by preventing you from reaching the deeper stages of sleep known as the REM stage.(9) Sleeping 8 hours after a few glasses of wine is not the same as sleeping 8 hours without having had any alcohol.

Secondly, having low energy levels and feeling sleepy is a common hangover symptom. Alcohol metabolism and its congeners cause inflammation and dehydration which all contribute to feeling rough the next day.

Feeling sleepy after drinking alcohol – the key points

That brings us to the end of our look into why alcohol makes you feel sleepy. Alcohol is a nervous system depressant that has a sedative effect on your body.

In the initial stages, it can make you feel relaxed. On the other end of the spectrum, high blood alcohol concentrations can lead to alcohol poisoning.

Some types of alcohol may make you feel more sleepy than others, such as red wine and beer. Why these alcoholic drinks make you more sleepy compared to others is still unclear. But some think it could be more to do with cultural associations and the environment that alcohol is being consumed.

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