Why Does Red Wine Make You Sleepy?
We’ve all been there: after a few glasses of delicious red wine, we stretch, let out a big yawn and think, “Wow, I’m tired.”
But have you ever wondered why red wine makes you so tired? Or if there’s any truth to the rumor that a bottle of red makes you more nap-ready than its lighter relatives?
To help clear up some foggy red wine confusion, read on as we break down scientific differences between reds and whites, the chemistry behind a glass of red’s sleep-inducing effects, and how to enjoy your alcohol while staying alert:
Red Wine vs. White Wine
While both reds and whites can make you sleepy, there are scientific differences that give these wines their unique appearances and effects on your brain and body:
White varietals and blends are notable for their lighter color, prominent acidity, lack of tannins, lower ABV (alcohol by volume), and reduced presence of melatonin.
While these five distinctions might seem disparate and unconnected, they all stem from a unique feature of white wine’s fermentation: lack of contact between white grapes and their skins.
As white grapes mature quicker than reds, winemakers pick their white grapes when they are less ripe, leading to lower sugar contents and alcohol levels in white wines.
To preserve these features, enhance acidity and ensure the wine’s lighter color, winemakers then separate white grapes from their skin during the fermentation process.
In addition to preserving a white wine’s acidity, golden hue, and lesser tannin/alcohol levels, this separation also prevents melatonin-rich grape skins from saturating the wine with an ample dose of this sleep-inducing hormone.
While white wine can make you feel drowsy, this is primarily due to the sedative effects of alcohol -- which are standard across all kinds of alcoholic beverages -- and not anything unique to the white wine itself.
Red varietals and blends are known for their darker colors, pronounced tannins, higher ABV (alcohol by volume), and increased melatonin presence.
Like white wines, your favorite bottle of red’s primary features directly results from vital differences in the fermentation process.
To start, red grapes are picked later and riper than whites.
This notable change contributes to the higher alcohol content of red wines. Riper grapes have higher sugar levels, meaning there is more sugar for yeasts to convert into alcohol during the fermentation process.
Once winemakers begin to ferment their red grapes, they also keep them in constant contact with their skins.
This choice is responsible for the most prominent distinctions between red and white wine:
Red grape skins are high in tannins, which give red wines their silky texture and firm structure, as well as melatonin, the famous sleep hormone that serves a central role in our body’s sleep cycle.
So, red wines make you more sleepy than whites because they have higher alcohol concentrations, a powerful, tranquilizing sedative, and melatonin, the world’s most famous sleep hormone.
Wine Insiders Tip: If you’re looking to avoid red wines that make you especially sleepy, research from the Journal of The Science of Food and Agriculture finds Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Merlot have lower levels of melatonin.
The Sleepy Combo of Alcohol and Melatonin
It’s common knowledge that alcohol and melatonin both make you sleepy, but each accomplishes this task differently.
Let’s compare alcohol with melatonin to see how each puts you to sleep:
Alcohol makes you tired by depressing your central nervous system.
The central nervous system (CNS) includes nerves in your brain and spinal cord and is primarily responsible for your body and mind’s major functions.
When you consume an alcoholic beverage (like wine), the alcohol works to immediately sedate and relax your CNS. This can alleviate anxiety, induce euphoria and, most prominently, make you a tad sleepy.
These feelings, however, don’t last very long -- as you’ve probably experienced.
In fact, most research suggests that the pleasant and sleep-inducing effects of alcohol only last for a few hours.
So, while the alcohol in red wine can help you fall asleep, it’s liable to disrupt your REM sleep, wake you up in the middle of the night, and even make for an unpleasant morning.
Melatonin is a sleep hormone your body produces naturally, but it’s also found in several supplements -- and red wine.
Our bodies produce melatonin at an increasing rate throughout the evening in response to our circadian rhythm.
As our melatonin levels rise, we begin to enter a state of restful peace and tranquility that is ideal for falling asleep.
Melatonin found in supplements works to help people who have trouble falling asleep, possibly due to insufficient melatonin levels. When taken ~2 hours before sleep, these supplements can greatly benefit restful, deep sleep in those that battle insomnia.
Conversely, the melatonin in red wine can help you fall asleep, but it’s very unlikely to create a full, uninterrupted night of healthy sleep.
Wine Insiders Tip: Though it can be tempting, particularly after a stressful day, never use wine as an intentional sleep aid. Alcohol can help induce sleep, but it can significantly disrupt your REM cycle, worsen sleep disorders and lead to a dreadful hangover.
How To Drink Red Wine Without Falling Asleep
So, you know that red wine can make you sleepy, but you don’t want to stop enjoying your favorite bottles.
Here’s our advice for enjoying your best red wines without nodding off at the table:
Eat Before You Drink
Eating before the consumption of alcohol slows down the rate at which your body absorbs and feels the effects of your drink.
A healthy serving of food before your night out will prevent alcohol from rushing into your small intestine, where it’s most quickly absorbed, allowing you to enjoy your glass(es) of wine without being overwhelmed by its alcoholic effect.
It’s always important to keep your body hydrated, but especially so before, during, and after drinking.
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it forces our bodies to remove liquids faster than normal.
If we don’t drink enough water before/while/after drinking alcohol, we are much more likely to become dehydrated and experience the potentially negative effects of our favorite wines.
Drinking wine should be a relaxing and leisurely experience - not a race.
No matter how quickly your friends, family, etc., may consume their wine, always make sure to enjoy your glass at a safe pace that works for you.
Your favorite glasses and bottles of red wine are a delicacy to luxuriate in, so treat them as such.
Wine Insiders: Your New Home For Reds
Now that you know how to manage the drowsy effects of a bottle of red masterfully, it’s time to explore Wine Insiders’ diverse collection of delicious red wines:
Covering Old and New World regions alike, our selection of red vino is sure to satisfy wine newbies and seasoned collectors alike with its wide range of flavors, aromas, and pairing possibilities -- all at an affordable price.
Whether you’re looking for top-rated bottles under $20 or a 12-bottle set to show you the wonders of an Italian red, we have the wines, insight, and special offers you need to explore the world of wine from the comfort of your own home.