Many people use alcohol to help them fall asleep. But the latest research reports that – while alcohol can help you fall asleep faster – its negative impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep far outweighs its sleep-inducing effects. Plus, regular use of alcohol as a sleep aid may result in a dependency on alcohol.
How alcohol reduces the quality of your sleep
According to researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, drinking alcohol to fall asleep interferes with sleep homeostasis, the body’s sleep-regulating mechanism. It reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep when you dream and an important phase of restorative sleep. Alcohol may seem to be helping you sleep – as it helps induce sleep – but the result is lighter, lower-quality sleep, interrupted by frequent awakenings which lead to a poorer night’s rest.
How alcohol affects sleep apnea
Those suffering from sleep apnea should be extremely careful when mixing alcohol and sleep. Sleep apnea is a condition caused by obstructions in the airway that makes it difficult to breathe effectively while sleeping. Alcohol intensifies this problem by causing the airways to narrow even further and making it even harder for the person to get the quality of sleep they need. Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that men, especially, have longer episodes of sleep-disordered breathing after drinking alcohol.
Use of alcohol and dependency
Using alcohol on a regular basis to change your mood, relax or help you fall asleep is a dangerous choice that can lead to dependence. One of the symptoms of alcohol dependence is the need to drink increasingly more to feel the same result. Health experts recommend that regular use of alcohol as a sleep aid may result in a dependency on alcohol and that alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid.
Why a chronic lack of sleep is bad for you
According to the latest research, the consequences of too little sleep are more than just daytime fatigue, a bad mood or a lack of focus. Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it can shorten your life expectancy. British researchers who studied how sleep patterns affected the mortality of more than 10,000 British civil servants over two decades found that those who cut their sleep from seven to five hours or fewer a night nearly doubled their risk of death from all causes. In particular, lack of sleep doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
If you need help
If you are having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, talk to your doctor or a sleep medicine physician to determine what factors are keeping you from sleeping. You can also contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for confidential counseling, referrals or information. Your EAP is available to you or your dependents to help you with most-any personal, family or work-related issue.