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Does Alcohol Hurt or Help Sleep Quality?

Posted On May 3, 2014
May 03, 2014

Joseph has had a rough day at work. From employee squabbles in the break room to delayed order shipments, he needed to put out fires at every step and turn. Joseph is looking forward to unwinding and de-stressing after dinner with a nice glass or two of brandy. But as he reaches for the bottle to decant, Joseph hesitates and moves his hand away. Why? Joseph is concerned that having just one glass of alcohol will adversely affect his sleep and make his tendency toward insomnia that much worse. Should Joseph be worried or not? Does alcohol hurt or help sleep quality?

How Alcohol Impacts Sleep Quality

While alcohol can make a person initially sleepy, especially if a large quantity is consumed before your head connects with the pillow, more often than not the effect is disruptive toward sleep quality. For all intents and purposes, alcohol is a drug.

In a review of all research on the subject of alcohol consumption and quality of sleep, a group out of Edinburgh Sleep Centre published its findings in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. These researchers verified that as alcohol consumption increases, sleep quality decreases.

Alcohol affects the amount of time a person spends in the deepest level of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM). This stage of sleep is the one in which we recharge our batteries and thus replenish our store of energy. Instead of the average 5 to 7 stints of REM, when consuming alcohol, this number falls to about one or two. Hence after consuming alcohol, the next morning and day, a person will probably feel tired and fatigued.

When you drink alcohol, another factor that can have a negative impact on sleep quality is its dehydrating effect. When you consume an alcoholic beverage, much like drinking coffee or caffeine, it acts as a diuretic. This means that not only do you wake up and go to the bathroom more throughout the night but you also can experience the effects of dehydration, such as becoming extremely thirsty, dizzy or weak. On top of that, alcohol makes a person’s mouth and eyes abnormally dry. Dehydration from alcohol occurs because the hormone that usually assists with water reabsorption is not released. As a result, urine is produced and hence the need to use the bathroom but then water is not reabsorbed by the kidneys.

People who have sleep apnea and drink alcohol make their condition that much worse. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when a person literally stops breathing for a period of seconds to minutes and as little as 5 to over 30 times an hour during the night. OSA is caused by a partial or full obstruction of a person’s airway. Imbibing even one alcoholic beverage will decrease the tone of the muscles of the sleep apnea sufferer’s airway. This means that breathing will be even more adversely affected. In addition, alcohol will make snoring even more intense.


How to Improve Sleep Quality

If you have become accustomed to having a night cap before bed, is there anything that you can drink that will not negatively impact your sleep quality? Well if you reflect back to childhood, you might have been given warm milk to help you drift off to Slumber Land. Milk contains an amino acid called tryptophan, which assists the body in its production of melatonin.  This substance helps a person sleep and relax and ensures a night spent with the best sleep quality.

If you have trouble sleeping or think you have sleep apnea, please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Communications for Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, manages all content and communications for the company.
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