This is Your Sleeping Brain.

This is Your Sleeping Brain on Booze.

If you have a few drinks in the evening, you may be worsening your sleep.

Alcohol is a sedative and clearly helps people fall asleep.  In fact, folks use alcohol more than any other substance to foster sleep.  Unfortunately, alcohol fragments sleep.

Alcohol immediately before sleep tends to increase time spent awake during the night and reduce REM, or dream, sleep.  The adverse effects of alcohol appear more pronounced in women.  More surprisingly, some data suggest that moderate doses of alcohol consumed 6 hours before sleep, even if blood alcohol content has returned to normal before sleep onset, may fragment sleep and reduce REM sleep.  Alcohol may also reduce the restful, restorative effects of sleep upon the heart and nervous system.  Time of day does not significantly alter the effects of alcohol upon sleep; alcohol does not even improve the restfulness of daytime naps.

Alcohol affects not only the brain but the airway as well.  Alcohol relaxes the upper airway muscles, which causes narrowing of the airway, which worsens snoring and can promote pauses in breathing during sleep from upper airway collapse, or obstructive sleep apnea.  If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, or if you snore, alcohol likely has a potent effect upon your sleep quality.

The effects of alcohol affect the recommendations I make to patients.  I ask patients with difficulty sleeping or sleep apnea to avoid drinking after dinner.  To others, I’d recommend being mindful of the potential effects of alcohol upon your sleep.