Alcoholism & Addiction

Alcohol Abuse Can Affect Sleep Long-Term

The benefits of a good night’s sleep are many. Likewise, interrupted sleep has many correlating negative impacts. Neurologists tell us that our brains and central nervous systems demand sleep in order to work as they should. Sleep is also related to normal hormone production and release as well as the maintenance of a strong immune system.

Though we do not completely understand all the ways that sleep affects a person’s life and health, we do know that proper sleep is a crucial part of a healthy life. Studies in recent years have shown that alcoholism can disturb normal sleep patterns for drinkers during their period of abuse and for long afterward.

Though in past centuries it was thought that the brain slept at night along with the rest of the body, science has shown this to be far from the case. Through electroencephalogram (EEG) transmissions we now know that healthy sleep involves dynamic brain activity divided into cycling stages of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM).

The rapid-eye-movement cycles represent as much as one quarter of total sleep time for a healthy adult. REM sleep is believed to be necessary for the brain in consolidating memories and dreaming which may be one of the body’s mechanisms for coping.

Studies conducted at sleep laboratories comparing the sleep patterns among alcoholics, non-alcoholics and currently sober subjects with a history of alcohol abuse found that those with any history of dependency showed markedly interrupted REM cycling. Alcoholic subjects experienced prolonged periods of light non-REM sleep, but even those who had been sober for up to two years showed similar REM cycle deprivation.

This less-than-healthy sleep pattern could leave alcoholics feeling more emotionally tense and with less mental acuity. In fact, diminished cognitive function as a result of disturbed REM sleep was the focus of academic research and an article in the professional journal Sleep. Greater vulnerability to infection and disease were also noted when people have been denied adequate REM sleep.

As noted above, it is during the deep sleep stage (REM stage) that the human body’s hormones are sent out to do their work of repairing muscles and neurons. Thus it may be surmised that hormone function is also impeded as the healthy sleep cycles become deregulated.

The fact that these negative consequences appear to persist long after a person ceases to be alcohol dependent is particularly troubling, making the dependence on alcohol that much more threatening. Experts are quick to point out that the studies do not prove beyond doubt that alcohol use is solely responsible for the impoverished sleep cycling, but self-reports of troubled sleeping from alcoholics make the connection very likely.

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