It is a popular myth that alcohol makes sleep better. Alcohol may help falling asleep easily but the quality of sleep is lost. The sleep cycle is disturbed. Drinking 1-2 alcohol drinks may have positive effects on sleep but heavy alcoholics have invariably undesirable effects on their sleep. Here are some factors on how drinking alcohol doesn’t improve your sleep:
There are four stages of sleep. NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep has stages 1-3 followed by REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. NREM stage 1 is very light sleep. Stage 2 is deeper and stage 3 is the most restful and restorative stage of the sleep cycle. NREM stage 3 is followed by REM sleep. REM sleep is lighter and vivid dreams occur during this stage. An alcoholic person spends more time in NREM stages 1, 2 and REM sleep. They spend less time in NREM stage 3 deep sleep. This results in restlessness and irritableness.
NREM stage 3 deep sleep produces delta wave activity in the brain. The delta activity of the brain is minimal in alcoholic patients. The delta activity of the brain is associated with memory formation and learning. In an alcoholic person, as the delta activity shuts down, the memory formation and learning is also hampered to a greater extent.
NREM stage 1 and 2 light sleep stages produce alpha brain activity. The alpha activity of the brain is switched on most of the time during sleep. Alpha waves are recorded when the brain is in active form while resting.
The other means by which alcohol hampers sleep are:
The after effects of alcohol are hangover in the morning and waking up very late in the morning. This itself will decrease the quality of life. During alcohol free days, the person experiences a better life as he wakes up early in the morning and gets involved in his daily routine.
Alcohol acts as a diuretic. Too much intake of alcohol causes frequent visits to the wash rooms to attend nature calls during night times which disturbs sleep to a greater extent. It also leads to loss of body water through sweat leading to dehydration.
Alcohol is a smooth muscle relaxant. Breathing problems, snoring and apnea are more prevalent in alcoholics. In individuals with obstructive sleep apnea, alcohol worsens their condition resulting in disturbed sleep.
The biological clock is altered as well, resulting in disturbances in night time sleep.
Ebrahim, I. O., Shapiro, C. M., Williams, A. J. and Fenwick, P. B. (2013), Alcohol and Sleep I: Effects on Normal Sleep. Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 37: 539`–549. doi:10.1111/acer.12006