Updated on February 6, 2024
6 min read

Can Alcohol Cause Insomnia?

Sometimes, people connect their insomnia with alcohol use and vice versa. It’s also a common practice for some people to treat insomnia by consuming alcohol.

Since alcohol can cause lightheadedness and sedation, people assume it can be a makeshift sleep medicine. However, this can lead to a compromised sleep cycle.

This blog covers the connection between alcohol consumption and insomnia and how you can get help to treat both conditions.

What is the Link Between Alcohol and insomnia?

Alcohol interferes with restful sleep and your sleep cycle. This interaction leads to alcohol insomnia. It's common for someone who's alcohol-dependent to experience long-term sleep problems since insomnia and other sleep disorders are typical symptoms of alcoholism.

Alcohol also has a bidirectional relationship with insomnia. This means people with insomnia have an increased risk of alcohol and substance use disorders.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that affects sleep. It’s characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both.

Insomnia is often caused by stress, anxiety, or depression. In other cases, it’s caused by an uncomfortable sleeping environment, substance use, or shift work.

Insomnia symptoms include:

  • Interrupted sleep
  • Inability to fall asleep
  • Feeling tired after waking up
  • Inability to nap during the day despite feeling tired
  • Tiredness and irritability during the day

How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

Drinking alcohol doesn't allow you to get enough deep sleep. Generally, even healthy alcohol consumption can lead to poor sleep quality.

Many people wake up a few times in the middle of the night without knowing and can't enjoy a regular sleep routine. Drinking alcohol can lead to the following sleep problems:

  • Increases the time needed to fall asleep
  • Disrupts total sleep time
  • Decreases sleep quality
  • Increased likelihood of snore
  • Sleep apnea
  • Causes daytime sleepiness
  • Interferes with REM sleep (rapid eye movement)
  • Affects the circadian rhythms, your "biological clock"
  • Nightmares

Insomnia doesn’t directly cause alcoholism, nor does alcoholism always cause insomnia. However, the relationship between the two disorders is complicated and closely linked.

Can Alcohol Help You Sleep Faster?

Alcohol has sedative properties that may help with sleep onset, allowing you to fall asleep faster. However, people who drink alcohol before bed often experience disruptions later in their sleep cycle. This happens when the liver enzymes metabolize alcohol.

This can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and other problems the next day. Drinking alcohol can also increase your tolerance, causing you to drink more to experience its sedative effects.

How Much Alcohol Does it Take To Distrupt Sleep?

Binge drinking or excessive alcohol consumption is likely to negatively impact sleep more than light or moderate drinking. Because alcohol’s effects vary for each person, even small amounts can worsen sleep quality for some people.

One study compared sleep quality among people who consumed different amounts of alcohol.5 The results are as follows:

  • Low amounts of alcohol: Less than two servings per day for men or one per day for women, reduced sleep quality by 9.3 percent
  • Moderate amounts of alcohol: Two servings per day for men or one serving per day for women, lessened sleep quality by 24 percent
  • High amounts of alcohol: More than two servings per day for men or one serving per day for women reduced sleep quality by 39.2 percent

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Alcohol Withdrawal and Insomnia

You have a high risk of developing insomnia during withdrawal and recovery if you struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD). In one study, 92% of inpatients with alcohol dependence experienced sleep disturbances during withdrawal.4

There are a few reasons why alcohol withdrawal and insomnia are linked, including:

  • People with alcoholism experience sleep problems before or early on in their addiction
  • An alcoholic may drink as part of their bedtime routine to help them sleep
  • Alcoholism might co-occur with other medical conditions such as anxiety or depression, which both have insomnia as a symptom

Symptoms of co-occurring disorders may heighten when you stop drinking alcohol. This typically happens to people who use alcohol to cope with the effects of mental health disorders. It’s best to treat any co-occurring disorders with proper detoxing from alcohol use to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol and Insomnia’s Relationship with Co-occurring Disorders

People with co-occurring medical conditions have an even higher risk of developing insomnia and/or substance use disorder.

Reports have stated the following findings:10

  • An ECA study estimated that 47% of patients with schizophrenia also had a diagnosis of SUD.
  • In 2020, North Carolina reported that approximately 25% or more of the homeless population had a severe mental illness (SMI) with substance abuse also being a significant comorbidity.
  • Over 40% of offenders with schizophrenia also had a form of concurrent substance abuse.

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Alcohol and Insomnia Statistics

People with alcohol use disorder experience insomnia at higher rates than those who don't abuse alcohol. This has severe implications for the U.S. population’s lifestyle.

  • The prevalence of insomnia among people with alcohol dependence is estimated at 36% to 91%11
  • Approximately 20 percent of adults in the U.S. use alcohol to help them fall asleep7
  • Fatigue events were more frequently observed in patients with untreated insomnia disorder in young and healthy adults (males under 40 years old and females aged 40–55 years old)8
  • An estimated 30 to 35 percent of adults in the U.S. deal with insomnia9

Side Effects of Insomnia

Insomnia can continue for weeks, months, or even years. If left untreated, insomnia can affect an addicted person's recovery and contribute to relapse.

Chronic insomnia can lead to increased:

  • Anxiety
  • Tiredness
  • Low enthusiasm
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration

Fortunately, insomnia typically goes away over time. However, there are many coping skills a person can practice to improve their sleep.

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Risk Factors of Insomnia

Risk factors that increase a person’s potential for developing insomnia include:

  • Age: Older people develop insomnia more than younger people
  • Gender: Women are more prone to insomnia than men
  • Health: Some physical and psychological medical conditions trigger insomnia
  • Alcohol and drug abuse: Insomnia can be a side effect of certain drugs and alcohol

Tips For Improving Sleep During Alcohol Withdrawal

Some lifestyle changes that can help manage alcohol insomnia include:

  • Changing an existing bedtime routine so it doesn't include alcohol consumption
  • Maintaining a consistent sleeping and waking time
  • Unwinding with relaxing activities (that don’t involve drinking alcohol) before bedtime
  • Avoiding stressful situations, especially within a few hours of bedtime
  • Using safe, natural sleep aids like magnesium or melatonin under a doctor’s supervision
  • Using over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids under a doctor’s supervision
  • Exercising daily or several times a week at least four to six hours before bedtime
  • Creating a cool, comfortable sleeping environment
  • Avoiding naps within the day
  • Avoiding using computers, cell phones, and e-readers before bedtime
  • Creating other healthy sleep habits

Alcohol dependency is rarely the only issue a person in withdrawal is dealing with. This is why a comprehensive approach to treatment is often the key to a successful recovery.

During alcohol withdrawal, it's crucial to address both the physical symptoms of withdrawal and any underlying mental health conditions that may contribute to insomnia, such as anxiety or depression.


Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make falling or staying asleep difficult. Meanwhile, alcohol can interrupt your sleep cycle leading to alcohol insomnia.

Alcohol doesn't directly cause insomnia and vice versa. However, they are closely linked. Because alcohol affects everyone differently, even a tiny amount of alcohol can lead to poor sleep quality.

If you’re struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD), you may develop insomnia during withdrawal or recovery. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your sleep during withdrawal.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
11 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Ornelas, C. “Chronic Back and Neck Pain’s Close Connection to Insomnia.” SpineUniverse.

  2. Insomnia.” Institute for Chronic Pain.

  3. “Using Alcohol to Relieve Your Pain: What Are the Risks?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 2019.

  4. Chakravorty et al. “Alcohol Dependence and Its Relationship With Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders.” Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 2016.

  5. Pietilä et al. “Acute Effect of Alcohol Intake on Cardiovascular Autonomic Regulation During the First Hours of Sleep in a Large Real-World Sample of Finnish Employees: Observational Study.” JMIR mental health, 2018.

  6. Colrain et al. “Alcohol and the sleeping brain.” Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2014.

  7. Thakkar et al. “Alcohol disrupts sleep homeostasis.” Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.), 2015

  8. Grandner et al. “The burden of untreated insomnia disorder in a sample of 1 million adults: a cohort study.” BMC Public Health, Springer Link, 2023.

  9. Insomnia in a pandemic, The Harvard Gazette, Harvard University, 2020.

  10. Cramer, C.E. “Mental Illness and Substance Abuse: Helping North Carolinian’s Fight Mental Illness and Substance Abuse.” Locke, 2022.

  11. Dopheide, J. “Insomnia Overview: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, Diagnosis and Monitoring, and Nonpharmacologic Therapy.” Supplements and Featured Publications. A Managed Care Review on Insomnia: Treatment Guidelines, Emerging Therapies, and the Need for Safe, Effective Options, 2020.

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