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Seeking Sleep? Rethink That Drink

It is a common misconception that having a couple glasses of wine before dinner will help you sleep.  Many people mistake the drowsy feeling that a little alcohol can bring as a quick way around insomnia, but the truth is that drinking makes you drowsy but it doesn’t help you sleep.

New findings that will be published in an upcoming issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, indicate that alcohol use and a good night’s sleep may be even farther apart than previously thought.  The findings are based on a review of the research from 27 previously completed findings.  The intent of the review was to get a more detailed picture of how alcohol affects sleep quality.  Previous studies have shown that drinking directly before bed does make people fall asleep faster, but the sleep they get for the remainder of the night is often disrupted.  This understanding led to the recommendation that drinking before bed should be avoided.

The study review shows that in addition to disrupting your regular sleep, drinking to get drowsy can cause these other, sometimes serious, problems.


1.     Decreases REM Sleep

REM, or Rapid Eye Movement Sleep is the deepest and most restorative of the different stages of sleep.  This is where dreams happen and according to the study review, alcohol decreases the amount of REM sleep we get when we sleep.    Not getting enough REM sleep can lead to difficulties concentrating, excessive daytime sleepiness, and other sleep deprivation related problems.


2.     Suppresses Breathing

The review also found that alcohol may contribute to sleep apnea because it can suppress breathing.  People with sleep apnea often experience excessive daytime sleepiness because their sleep is interrupted over and over throughout the night by apneas of pauses in breathing.  The study results seem to indicate that drinking before bed can contribute to disruptions in breathing.


3.     Impacts Sleep Quality

It is true that the sedative effects of alcohol can help some people with insomnia to fall asleep faster and even sleep deeper in the first part of the night.  However, the sleep quality drinkers experience in the second half of the night is disrupted enough to eliminate any of the short-term gains from falling asleep faster.


4.     May Cause Alcohol Dependence

Those desperate to sleep who turn to alcohol as their sleep aid of choice may risk developing a dependence on alcohol.  Given the array of problems drinking to get drowsy can cause, using alcohol as a sleep aid is not advised.

If you are struggling to get the sleep you need at night, talk to your doctor before using alcohol, drugs, or over the counter medicine to self-treat.  You need to determine if your sleep problems are the result of an underlying sleep disorder or medical condition so that you can get the proper treatment and get the sleep you need.


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