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Julian Omidi Discusses the Effects of Sustained Alcohol Use on Sleep

Julian Omidi reports on recent research that suggests that consistently using alcohol to initiate sleep may lead to sleep disorders in the future.

While it may be thought that having a cocktail or a glass of wine before bed helps to promote sleep, it appears that the type of sleep it induces is not as restful as typical sober sleep, even though the drinker may fall into a deep sleep relatively quickly. Moreover, it should be noted that people who drink regularly in order to fall asleep could be setting themselves up for sleep problems in the future, according to a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The doctor who wrote the study is Dr. Irshaad Ebrahim, the medical director of the London Sleep Centre.  “One or two glasses might be nice in the short term, but if you continue to use a tipple before bedtime it can cause significant problems,” he says in an article published on the BBC news site.  “We should be very cautious about drinking on a regular basis.”

The first two stages in sleep while under the influence of alcohol (the rapid onset of sleep followed by a very deep sleep) are the reasons why some with difficulty falling asleep or who suffer from disordered sleeping tend to use alcohol.  However, the truly restful period, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep tends to be disrupted, and doesn’t lend itself to the true hallmark of deep, rejuvenating sleep; dreams.

People who fall asleep under the influence of alcohol also find that their breathing becomes labored and are more likely to snore—even if they usually don’t.  Dangerously, people who do snore might develop sleep apnea during alcohol-induced sleep.

The risk of dependence on alcohol for sleep increases the more it is used, the study also shows.  People who use alcohol regularly to initiate sleep find that they suffer from insomnia if they fail to receive their dose.

The disruption of REM sleep deprives the brain from resetting itself, so to speak.  The REM sleep cycle is the time the brain performs its rejuvenation and memory organization, so that once awake you feel alert and focused.  The deprivation of REM sleep leads to fuzzy memory, lack of concentration and reduced motor function.

The report was based upon hundreds of studies that were reviewed by Dr. Ebrahim and his staff.

Sleep is critically important to health.  If you suffer from diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or obesity, lack of sleep can (and will) exacerbate those health issues.  Drinking alcohol to excess, even if it is for the purpose of promoting sleep, only augments the problem.  If you consistently have trouble sleeping and you have any other underlying health conditions, visit your doctor, and ask if you can be referred to a sleep specialist for treatment.

By Julian Omidi

Roberts, Michelle: Alcohol-fueled sleep ‘less satisfying’ BBC News 1/22/2013 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21147780

 Alcohol Disrupts Sleep

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