Alcohol drinking can itself lead to poor sleeping patterns, lack of quality sleep, and overall sleep deprivation
Although drinking alcohol often enables people to fall asleep more easily, sleep patterns are disrupted. Sleep in the early part of the night is usually with the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep in which we dream, and resolve many of our issues from the previous day, and theta waves predominate. Later in the night we enter into delta sleep that is deepest and restorative. Alcohol drinking causes less REM and delta sleep.
We need REM sleep to discharge and release the tensions and pressures of the day, and need delta sleep for recuperation. Deprived of both by alcohol we often awake from alcohol induced sleep deprivation feeling stale and unrefreshed. People feel fatigued, irritable and lethargic. Physical performance is diminished. When tasks call for concentration, novel input and are complex alcohol induced sleep deprivation prevents us from fully focusing on and attending to the task. Sleep deprivation effects are commonly part of the symptoms of an alcoholic “hangover“.
Sleep deprivation suppresses normal levels of prolactin, cortisol and growth hormone. Lack of these chemical regulators means that the body cannot achieve optimum restorative function when deprived of sleep. Lack of sleep in nature, due to some form of stimulation or excitement would normally spell possible danger. Such a stimulas would not be expected to be continuous. The body is not designed to deal with high level chronic stress for long periods of time.
Stress and sleep deprivation cause damage and disorder in the body.
Studies have shown that drinking even low doses of alcohol, after a night of sleep deprivation, intensifies sleep deprivation effects. These effects continue on after all the alcohol has been metabolized. Similarly sleep in the second half of the night will be disrupted by alcohol consumed 6 hours before, even though the drinker has no measurable levels of alcohol left in his body.
Alcohol, sleep and old age can be a concerning combination. As we age we need less sleep, and frequently wake in the night. Alcohol drinking might appear to promote sleep but the result can be insomnia, especially in the later part of the night, and a lack of quality sleep.
With infants alcohol exposure, such as drinking while carrying a baby or when breast feeding can lead to sleep disruption. Sleep disruption and increased arousal occur in the new born, compared with children of non-drinking mothers. Infants exposed to alcohol in breastmilk fall asleep more quickly, but did not sleep as much.
Chronic alcohol drinking is associated with sleep apnea or interrupted breathing while sleeping.Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with fatigue and day time sleepiness, and deficits in skills such as driving a motor vehicle. OSA sufferers who drank 2 or more alcohol drinks per day were regarded as being 5 times more at risk of having a motor vehicle accident. Snoring might also increase after an evening’s heavy drinking due to relaxation of the pharyngeal muscles.
Alcoholism causes inability to get to sleep, less quality sleep and more risk of frequently waking up in the night. Alcohol withdrawal is marked by insomnia and increased sleep fragmentation. Alcohol withdrawal also causes lack of restful sleep bu an increase in REM activity. In acute alcohol withdrawal – sleep might consist of short periods of REM sleep, interrupted by periods of awakening. It is thought that the increased REM sleep is associated with hallucinogenic effects experienced by alcoholics. It is thought that poor sleeping patterns may persist in alcoholics even after they have stopped drinking.
The combined effects of sleep deprivation and alcohol drinking spoil athletic performance, cause lack of ability to focus and reduce concentration. As alcohol drinking is associated with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), metabolic disturbance, and poor nutritional intake the results for sporting performance and general day time activity can be extremely depleting.
The connection between alcohol drinking and sleep deprivation is clearly established, such that people need to consider sleep deprivation effects when choosing to use alcohol. Problems caused in the body by alcohol seem to be persistent and will continue after the original alcohol has been metabolized. Sportsmen, nursing mothers, people with pre-existent disease need to seriously consider abstaining from alcohol drinking.
Young people in perfect health might want to reconsider the current evidence that implicates alcohol in a range of body disorders, including sleep deprivation, against promotion of alcohol drinking as being safe in moderation.
The reality is that no level of alcohol drinking is guaranteed to be safe, for all people, all of the time. In these times of increased stress, we need all the sleep that we can get. Using alcohol for recreation, to overcome fatigue can end up with results that are the opposite of what the person intended when using alcohol.