3 min

Waking Up to the Facts: Alcohol's Disturbing Effects on Your Sleep

3 min

Yes, I like to drink one glass (or more) of alcohol once in a while. Living in a country such as Belgium where beer is the number one currency, I'm not ashamed to tell that I once in a while loose myself in this golden liquid. In extension, also a glass of wine or a well-prepared gin tonic sometimes help me to stay hydrated on these hot summer days.

On the other hand, since I have been measuring the impact of alcohol consumption on my health (and performance the day afterwards) I must say that I drastically started reducing the frequency of my alcohol intake. While there were periods I drank one or two glasses of wine a day to unwind, I now rarely engage in this socially encouraged activity. It also helps that more and more brands are introducing non-alcoholic alternatives which are frankly quite good.

We all know that alcohol is bad for our health. Those who are not yet convinced I recommend listening to the Andrew Huberman podcast "What alcohol does to your body, brain and health"

Two important facts:

  1. Already 7 units of alcohol per week reduce the size of your pre-frontal cortex. It doesn't matter whether these are consumed separate from each other (every day 1 consumption) or all together.
  2. And for the men reading this, more than 1 beer per day already influences your sperm quality.

Changing your alcohol consumption through biometrical feedback

One of the most impactful "aah-haa" moments I get while working with professionals on optimising their performance is when they see the impact of alcohol on their sleep.

We often get the impression that we fall asleep easier when we had a couple of drinks. And although this might be true, it's shocking to see how much the body is still working to get rid of the alcohol in your blood.

Last week, I experienced this phenomena again myself. My partner Laura and I went for a long and fancy dinner with some friends and besides the good food, also the wine pairing was excellent :)

Picture taken before the drinking :)

The below graph shows my sleep quality the night after I had 6 drinks.

The impact of alcohol on sleep quality. (Avg HRV 40ms)

The first part of the night, my body was still working hard (red bars) to get rid of the alcohol. It was only during the second part of the night that my body was able to go into relaxation. 

The impact of 6 units was even worse when I had my birthday dinner.

The impact of alcohol on sleep quality. (Avg HRV 35 ms)

Maybe these graphs don't tell you anything but let's compare it to a normal night of mine.The difference (graph below) is enormous. 

Good night of sleep (Avg HRV 58 ms)

If you think that 6 glasses is a bit exceptional, then have a look at the impact of 3 units of alcohol.

The impact of alcohol on sleep quality. (Avg HRV 43 ms)


Measuring the impact of alcohol on my sleep (besides the impact I feel the day after on my cognitive performance) has created an enormous awareness of the poison I put in my body.

It has now taken me to the point that I will stop drinking alcohol for a year. Yes, a year!

Do I encourage you to do the same? No

Do I encourage you to measure the impact it has on your body? Yes

As I see from experience that measuring can help you in creating more awareness. And in the end, it is awareness which always comes before change.