Study Explores How Alcohol Disturbs Normal Sleep Cycle

A new study confirms what many people already know firsthand: alcohol does not help you sleep better.

A couple cocktails in the evening may help you fall asleep faster, but it’s what happens later that leaves you feeling groggy, according to researchers who reviewed 27 studies on drinking alcohol and sleep patterns. The study will be published in April’s edition of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

“Alcohol on the whole is not useful for improving a whole night’s sleep,” said Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre. “Sleep may be deeper to start with, but then becomes disrupted. Additionally, that deeper sleep will probably promote snoring and poorer breathing. So, one shouldn’t expect better sleep with alcohol.”

Generally, deep sleep promotes rest and restoration, said Irshaad Ebrahim, medical director at The London Sleep Centre and a co-author of the study. But when alcohol increases deep sleep, called slow-wave sleep, it can also increase a person’s vulnerability to sleepwalking or sleep apnea.

In a normal sleep cycle, people start off in the non-rapid eye movement sleep state, followed by a very short period of rapid eye movement sleep, according to a news release. Then, they continue with more NREM sleep and more REM sleep. This 90-minute cycle happens continuously through the night.

But when a person drinks alcohol, they may fall quickly asleep but they will have more deep sleep and less REM sleep, which is when dreams usually occur, the news release states.

“During REM sleep the brain is more active, and may be regarded as ‘defragmenting the drive,’ ” Ebrahim said. “REM sleep is also important because it can influence memory and serve restorative functions. Conversely, lack of REM sleep can have a detrimental effect on concentration, motor skills, and memory. REM sleep typically accounts for 20 to 25 percent of the sleep period.”

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Source: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release

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