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Will Stop Drinking Alcohol Improve Sleep?

Posted Nov 20 2009 10:04pm

Many people who drink have disrupted sleep. Do you wonder if you stopped drinking, if your sleep would improve? A study came out Oct 1st, 2009  in the journal Sleep that shows that the negative effects of long term alcoholism on sleep persists even after an extended abstinence period. (If you question if you are drinking to excess, click here for a free guide on assessing symptoms of alcoholism ). The principal investigator, Ian Colrain, PhD, director of the SRI International Human Research Program and a fellow in psychology at the University of Melborne in Australia, found the following: 1) The alcoholic subjects, after 719 days of abstinence, had a lower  percentage of slow wave sleep compared to controls. 2) The alcoholic subjects showed a significant increase in stage 1 sleep (non REM which is non rapid eye movement sleep). Men and women had similar sleep patterns. The authors felt that less deep, slow wave sleep and more light, stage 1 sleep reflect a poorer sleep quality. Poor sleep may be a contributing factor to the cognitive decline seen in people with alcoholism (alcohol dependence).

The study involved 42 alcoholic subjects and 42 controls of both men and women. The average age was 49 years old for the alcoholics and 51 years old for the non alcoholics. Each subject received full polysomnography overnight and were screened for medical, psychiatric, and sleep problems. The subjects perception of sleep was measured by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PQSI) which showed the alcoholics with the highest lifetime consumption  of alcohol had the worst quality sleep.

The author points out slow wave sleep is involved in memory. We know that alcohol damages different areas of the brain affecting thinking, judgment, and planning. As a psychiatrist, a number of my patients that suffer from substance abuse complain of insomnia even after they have quit drinking. I have observed that sobriety from drug or alcohol abuse does not seem to reverse this problem.

This study supports what I see in my clinical practice. Insomnia is a significant problem for the alcoholic population. The effects of alcohol on sleep, even in alcoholism recovery must be addressed in treatment or relapse will occur.

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