A team of Indian American scientists from the University of Missouri has found that drinking alcohol to fall asleep interferes with body’s natural ability to regulate sleep.
The findings showed alcohol affects the body’s sleep homeostasis – the body’s sleep-regulating mechanism – that can cause insomnia over time.
The prevailing thought was that alcohol promotes sleep by changing a person’s circadian rhythm – the body’s built-in 24-hour clock.
“However, we discovered that alcohol actually promotes sleep by affecting a person’s sleep homeostasis – the brain’s built-in mechanism that regulates your sleepiness and wakefulness,” said lead author Mahesh Thakkar, associate professor of neurology and director of research in the MU’s school of medicine.
If an individual loses sleep, the body produces adenosine, a naturally occurring sleep-regulating substance that increases a person’s need for sleep.
When a person goes to sleep early, sleep homeostasis is shifted and he or she may wake up in the middle of the night or early morning.
The researchers found that alcohol alters the sleep homeostatic mechanism and puts pressure on an individual to sleep.
When this happens, the sleep period is shifted and a person may experience disrupted sleep.
“Based on our results, it’s clear that alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid,” added Pradeep Sahota, chair of MU school of medicine’s department of neurology.
Alcohol disrupts sleep and the quality of sleep is diminished. Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, which increases your need to go the bathroom and causes you to wake up earlier in the morning, Sahota pointed out.
The investigators also found that after extended periods of frequent drinking, subjects would fall asleep as expected but would wake within a few hours and would be unable to fall back asleep.
When the subjects were not given alcohol, the team found that they showed symptomatic insomnia.
“If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, do not use alcohol. Talk to your doctor or a sleep medicine physician to determine what factors are keeping you from sleeping,” the duo explained.
The study was published in the international biomedical journal Alcohol.