10 Myths About Sleep

Stay for a Nightcap: Alcohol Helps You Sleep
Tying one on may make you doze off quickly, but you’re unlikely to get quality sleep. © Jelena Jovanovic/Hemera/ Thinkstock

About 20 percent of Americans pour themselves a nightcap in an effort to get a good night's sleep, and if you're one of them, that drink you're having before bed may actually be sabotaging, not helping, the quality of your snooze [source: Thakkar, et al].

Yes, drinking an alcoholic beverage or two before bed will help you fall asleep faster. That's because alcohol has a sedative effect on the body's central nervous system — but there's a catch. If you're three sheets to the wind when you hit the sheets, that alcohol appears to have an effect on what's known as your brain's sleep-wake system. Through this system, your brain regulates and balances when you feel sleepy or awake, in addition to regulating your sleep throughout the night.

There are two sleep cycles: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). We spend about 80 percent of our sleep in NREM sleep; NREM sleep, which is dreamless, is broken into multiple stages, including deep sleep when the body is in restoration mode [source: Robinson]. It's the second piece of your good night's sleep, REM sleep, when you'll really feel the brunt of the booze. Once your body metabolizes the alcohol you drank, your sleep becomes restless, and you may wake early or multiple times during the night, and you may find it difficult to fall back asleep [source: Thakkar, et al].

To help avoid the sleep-related side effects of alcohol, which may include headache, night sweats, nightmares and snoring (in addition to a growing reliance on that evening cocktail), cap yourself at one to two drinks and don't drink alcohol within three hours of turning in [source: AASM].