For people who suffer from insomnia, trouble staying asleep or restless sleep, alcohol sometimes appears to be initially useful since it is a depressant. However, according to researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, alcohol actually interferes with your body’s ability to get a good night’s sleep. There are important differences between just falling asleep and getting good sleep.
Researchers indicate that up to 20 percent of American adults are using alcohol to help fall asleep. The study results showed that alcohol interrupts REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the stage of deep sleep that includes dreams. When REM sleep is broken up, the body does not get the full healing and therapeutic benefits from sleep that it needs.
One issue with using alcohol as a sleep aid is the potential for dependence. “If you take alcohol for the first day, the second day, the third day, the fourth day you have to take more alcohol to get the same amount of sleep. So, you’re going to get tolerance and once you get tolerance there’s a very likelihood that you’re going to become dependent,” remarked Dr. Mahesh Thakkar, one of the researchers on the study.
Many people with sleep problems are not setting out to become dependent on alcohol in order to get rest. However, in an attempt to solve a problem, they may create another one with alcohol. Dr. Thakkar suggests that before resorting to alcohol, anyone with sleep issues should get tested for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can make it difficult for someone to fall asleep, or stay asleep and is easily diagnosed.
This study shows one of the many ways people can begin to develop substance abuse problems. Often these attempts to self-mediate for to treat other symptoms can lead to much bigger issues such as addiction.