Twenty-six episodes of ‘The A-Files’ air throughout Alcohol Awareness Month on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Alcohologist.com and AddictedMinds.com, among other web and social media sites. Episode T looks at tiredness, fatigue and sleep. A mythology seems to have developed around the impact of alcohol on sleep… and it is true the central nervous system depressant drug alcohol will put a person under sedation quicker.
Alcohol increases deep sleep in the first half of the night, too, but short-term alcohol use only gives the impression of improving sleep. Drinking has a major impact on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is important to physical health, metabolism and mental health. Edinburgh Sleep Centre did the sleep homework (see study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research) and concluded. “Alcohol on the whole is not useful for improving a whole night’s sleep. 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.”
The majority of studies, across different alcohol dosages, ages and genders, confirm an increase in slow-wave sleep (SWS) in the first half of the night. SWS, or deep sleep, generally promotes rest and restoration. However, when alcohol increases SWS, this may also increase vulnerability to certain sleep problems such as sleepwalking or sleep apnea in those who are predisposed. Alcohol suppresses our breathing. It can turn non-snorers into snorers and snorers into people with sleep apnea – where the breathing’s interrupted.
Alcohol’s affect on REM sleep is dramatic. REM sleep typically accounts for 20 to 25 percent of the night. Total night REM sleep percentage is halved in the majority of studies at moderate and high doses in so-called “normal” people as well as those with alcohol use disorders, such as the disease of alcoholism. Dreams generally occur in the REM stage of sleep. During REM sleep the brain is more active, and may be regarded as “defragmenting the drive.” 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. When you’re tired the next day, blame the alcohol’s detrimental impact on solid sleep the whole night through.
There is also a linkage with depression – another thing alcohol mythology says drinking will solve when in fact, alcohol causes and worsens it. The entire 26 episode HD series is available on disc, along with fact sheets, for helping professions. See the preorder special at tr.im/TheAFiles