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Alcohol Lowers the Quality of Your Sleep

Booze might help you fall asleep faster but it's still a really bad sleep aid, new research confirms.

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By Chrisanne Grise

01/23/13

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Drinking before bed may help you fall asleep, but it also decreases the quality of that sleep, according to a new review of 27 studies. The research—to be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research—found that booze does help healthy people fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply, to a point. But it also reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep—the restorative stage of sleep during which we dream. One or two drinks have a minimal effect. But the more you drink before bed, the more dramatic the impact. And if your REM sleep is disturbed, you may notice daytime drowsiness, poor concentration and difficulty sleeping later. “The immediate and short-term impact of alcohol is to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, and this effect on the first half of sleep may be partly the reason some people with insomnia use alcohol as a sleep aid,” says researcher Irshaad Ebrahim, medical director of the London Sleep Centre. “However, this is offset by having more disrupted sleep in the second half of the night.” He adds that alcohol can also suppress breathing and cause sleep apnea, a breathing-related sleep disorder. “Alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid, and regular use of alcohol as a sleep aid may result in alcohol dependence,” Ebrahim concludes. “If you rely on alcohol to fall asleep, recognize that you have a greater likelihood to sleepwalk, sleep talk, and have problems with your memory.” Experts suggest that people who have trouble sleeping should instead take regular exercise (no later than a few hours before bed); avoid caffeine, alcohol or nicotine at night; reserve the bed for sleeping and sex only; keep the bedroom at a cool temperature; and set regular times to wake and go to bed.

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