If you find yourself tossing and turning frequently instead of sleeping soundly through the night, consider this as (excuse my diction) a wake-up call to make your drinking habits work for you and not against you. We tapped with Maddie Pasquariello, MS, RD, a Brooklyn-based dietitian, for expert-approved insights on drinking habits for better sleep. Caffeine fiends, late-night drinkers, and those who make too many pre-dawn trips to the bathroom, you’ll definitely want to keep reading.
4 DR-approved drinking habits for better sleep
1. Time your caffeine intake wisely
If you’re like me, the promise of coffee can be a driving force that gets you out of bed each morning… but on the other hand, it can also hinder your ability to sleep later at night. “It is important to understand how caffeine acts at the neurological level,” Pasquariello begins. “Neurons release adenosine during the day to control sleep, arousal, circulation, and more. When adenosine is released, it “pushes” the body to rest; during the day, adenosine levels rise until the pressure is simply too high and it’s time to go to bed.” However, he says that caffeine acts as an antagonist, competing with adenosine to bind to neuroreceptors. When caffeine outcompetes adenosine for this space, the latter can’t do its job, increasing wakefulness and hampering natural, healthy sleep cycles.
“Caffeine has a pretty long half-life,” Pasquariello adds, “so it will stay in the body for five to 10 hours after you drink it. And the more caffeine you consume later in the day, the more jittery or jittery you’ll feel at bedtime.” For these reasons, he advises we stop consuming caffeine relatively early to minimize the chances of it disrupting your ability to sleep. “I recommend try to keep that last cup of caffeine down before noon,” she says. While that may be easier said than done (just me?), she suggests a few other energy-boosting stimulants, like getting fresh air, walking brisk pace or opt for a high-protein snack to help beat the afternoon slump.
Coffee aside, try to avoid consuming other sources of caffeine later in the day. “Decaffeinated coffee, green and black tea, drinks containing guarana and yerba mate, and even some chewing gum also contain caffeine,” shares Pasquariello, as does a classic bedtime treat: hot chocolate. “That said, the average amount of caffeine present in hot chocolate won’t affect your sleep as much as coffee,” she says. “You would need to consume about 50 grams of pure cocoa (more than half a cup) to consume roughly the equivalent amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee.” In other words, hot chocolate may be fair game as a warm drink for the night, but you may want to cut back if you’re sensitive to caffeine and/or your sleep quality isn’t as stellar as you’d like it to be.
2. Skip the nightcaps
While you may find that one or two alcoholic drinks can help you fall asleep fairly quickly, the truth is that they will end up hurting the overall quality of your sleep. At this point, Pasquariello says that drinking can disrupt both rapid eye movement (REM) cycles and slow-wave sleep (SWS) cycles. “When you have a few drinks, the amount of REM sleep you get decreases and REM onset (ie, when you experience your first REM cycle at night) is delayed,” he explains. REM sleep is essential for memory and dream formation, and interruptions, through alcohol and other factors, can negatively affect sleep, cognition, mental health, and more. In addition, alcohol intake is known to make us wake up throughout the night. “This is not ideal, as the more we wake up, the harder it is to get the REM cycles we need,” adds Pasquariello.
In addition, Pasquariello says that alcohol is thought to disrupt the normal properties of SWS (the deepest stage of non-REM sleep), interfering with how refreshed we feel upon waking. Among other things, he continues, SWS is also “vital for regulating metabolism and aiding in growth and development.” However, she points out that drinking alcohol can prompt us to get more SWS than we need, which may sound innocuous, but can actually inhibit us from getting enough of the other stages of sleep needed to feel and function at our best. “Sleep stage timing is a delicate balance,” she warns.
All of this is to say that if you’re relying on alcohol to reach your ZZZ, you’d better adopt healthier drinking habits that actually promote higher-quality rest.
3. Try to consume less fluids as the night winds down
If you wake up in the twilight hours too often to relieve your bladder, you already know how detrimental it can be to the quality of your sleep and energy levels the next day. “Nocturnal trips to the bathroom (also known as nocturia) can have a variety of causes, including drinking excess fluids just before bed and drinking caffeine or alcohol,” shares Pasquariello. Certain medications, blood sugar fluctuations and digestive problems are additional contributing factors, he notes.
To limit your late-night (or early-morning) trips to the bathroom, Pasquariello says a few minor lifestyle changes can help. “It can be helpful to limit caffeine and alcohol, especially late in the day, and limit fluids in general for a couple of hours before bed,” he shares. Of course, feel free to take a sip (rather than a gulp) of H2O or any other non-stimulant beverage you’d like as you near bedtime. Just don’t forget to stay on top of your hydration game earlier in the day, and be sure to make one last trip to the bathroom before snuggling under the covers.
4. Sip to sleep better
Now that we know caffeine and alcohol are off the table even before the sun goes down, you may want to treat your taste buds to tasty beverages other than plain water. And yes, I know we just said that it may be best to limit your fluid intake closer to bedtime, but you can test the waters (ahem) to find out what works best for you. In fact, some beverages have the potential to improve sleep.
While Pasquariello says peer-reviewed research is limited when it comes to herbs as natural sleep remedies, anecdotally, he shares that “chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass, and lavender can help promote a state of break”. In tea form, these calming and often aromatherapeutic herbs can promote relaxation and calmness and therefore better sleep. He also notes that tart cherry juice can increase natural levels of melatonin (also known as the sleep hormone), and magnesium beverages “may help regulate sleep-inducing neurological conditions.”