How Alcohol Consumption Affects Sleep Patterns
New Opinion Post from The Issues Forum
People often believe that alcohol facilitates sleep, which results in the use of alcohol to treat sleep problems.1 In contrast to conventional wisdom, sleep research shows that chronic alcohol use and abuse disrupt sleep.
Several issues complicate our understanding of alcohol’s effects on sleep, among them:
· The timing of alcohol consumption, including the time of day people drink
· How long a person consuming alcohol has been awake
· How close alcohol consumption is to bedtime.
In general, people fall asleep faster and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is reduced if they drink alcohol 30-60 minutes before bedtime.2-4 (REM is the state of sleep associated with dreaming.) Although some research has reported alcohol increased deep sleep early on, several studies have failed to confirm these findings.3-5 Additionally, the effects of alcohol on sleep appear to linger beyond the time alcohol is metabolized.6
We observed interesting findings related to the time of day one drank alcohol. Alcohol produces two behavioral results: first stimulating, as breath alcohol levels increase, and second sedating as breath alcohol levels fall. In our studies, we measured whether these results change when alcohol is drunk at different times of day. We looked at how fast people fall asleep when they drank alcohol around 9:30PM – when a person is most alert – and about 3:30AM – when one is most sleepy. We found when participants tried to sleep just after drinking, it took them longer to fall asleep because they were still feeling the stimulating effects of alcohol.7