In fact, alcohol disrupts your ability to doze in a number of ways, according to Avidan. During the first stages of sleep a number of things are altered: Alcohol shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, it reduces REM sleep (which, research shows, stimulates regions of the brain necessary for learning and good cognitive function), and it increases non-REM sleep, which is a lighter slumber. As the alcohol begins to withdraw from your body later in the night, sleep becomes more shallow and disrupted, REM sleep increases (all at once, rather than slowly, over the course of the night), and with it, so do dreams and/or nightmares. This all adds up to a poor night's rest.
Alcohol can also rob you of needed slumber by swelling mucus membranes, blocking airways. People breathe more heavily, making it difficult to pass oxygen to the lungs. That's particularly dangerous for people with sleep apnea, a condition causing brief interruptions in breathing.
Red wine with dinner is fine if you don't have trouble sleeping, Avidan says. Just be sure to drink three to four hours before bedtime so your body has enough time to metabolize the alcohol and your sleep is not disrupted. That's the average time needed for three glasses of wine to clear your system.
For people with sleep apnea or a history of insomnia, he recommends not drinking until sleep problems are under control.
Eating and Sleep
Food and sleep don't make good bedmates. Either eating too much or too little at bedtime can interrupt sleep.
A heavy meal before you go to bed is a bad idea because it can cause reflux, Avidan says. Lying down brings acid from the stomach back up into the esophagus, which can trigger heartburn, pain, or coughing -- not a recipe for restful sleep.
Try eating dinner early in the evening, say around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. If you're hungry later, opt for a light snack to tide you over. "You want to have finished your dinner at least four hours before bedtime," according to Walsleban.