Booze at bedtime can mean a restless night for young adults. Young adults who have a drink an hour or so before bedtime may have changes in brain activity tied to disturbed sleep.
Many people think of alcohol as a way to relax, and it can have a sedative effect. A new study found, however, that people who had a pre-bedtime drink were more likely to show evidence of sleep disruption. On the nights when they did not have a bedtime drink, their sleep was more restful.
"The take-home message here is that alcohol is not actually a particularly good sleep aid even though it may seem like it helps you get to sleep quicker," said study author Christian L. Nicholas, PhD, of the University of Melbourne's Sleep Research Laboratory in Australia, in a press release. "In fact, the quality of the sleep you get is significantly altered and disrupted."
Dr. Nicholas and team studied a group of men and women aged 18 to 21 who were healthy and typically had one drink in a 24-hour period. The patients were connected to a machine that monitors brain waves, called an electroencephalograph (EEG).
These patients drank either a single vodka and orange juice or a placebo drink, which did not contain enough alcohol to have an effect. Dr. Nicholas and colleagues then studied the patterns from the EEG while patients slept.
EEG recordings showed that the study patients were able to fall asleep quickly after an alcoholic beverage, Dr. Nicholas and team found. As the night wore on, however, the brain waves changed to a pattern that showed an increase in frontal alpha power. Frontal alpha power is an indicator of disturbed sleep.
When study patients drank the placebo drink, their brain waves did not indicate disrupted sleep patterns.
For college-age adults like those in this study, the most important finding may be that regularly drinking alcohol before bedtime can disrupt the restful qualities of sleep. Chronically disturbed sleep can cause problems with daytime functioning.
Past research has found that disturbed sleep may also cause memory and learning trouble. Dr. Nicholas and team noted, however, that their results could not necessarily be applied to older adults, younger adolescents, binge drinkers or college-age adults who already had sleep problems because they were not included in this research.
This study was published online Jan. 16 in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
The Australasian Sleep Association and National Health & Medical Research Council funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.