The topic of alcohol and sleep is of special interest to researchers lately, with nearly 600 studies2 published on it so far this year. However, the vast majority of this research is on people who are heavy drinkers or have alcohol use disorder. There’s no doubt that excessive alcohol use (which the CDC defines as 4+ drinks for women and 5+ drinks for men3) is associated with low sleep quality4, and the impact seems to be dose-dependent. That is, the more you drink before bed, the worse your sleep will be.
That said, less research has focused on how low to moderate drinking—1-2 drinks per night, for example—impacts sleep. We still have more to learn on this topic, but it does seem that any amount of alcohol can throw off sleep architecture.
According to a review study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, alcohol (at all doses) delays the first REM sleep period and reduces total night REM sleep. “One consequence of a delayed onset of the first REM sleep would be less restful sleep,” corresponding author Irshaad Ebrahim, MD, said in a statement.
As for whether certain types of alcohols are less disruptive to sleep, or if repeated light drinking impacts sleep quality over time5, we don’t have any good answers and it likely depends on the person.
While everyone metabolizes alcohol a bit differently, the best way to ensure that booze doesn’t harm your sleep is to avoid it entirely or drink it earlier in the day—at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. Switching over to low- or no-ABV options closer to bedtime may also help keep REM sleep intact (just watch out for added sugars).
If you do want to enjoy a glass of wine or a bit of mezcal before bed, no shame. Just consider pairing it with habits that will help you rest up: Go to sleep at your usual bedtime, avoid late-night scrolling on your devices, and follow a relaxing sleep routine that involves a bath, a meditation session, or a sleep supplement.