Younger Alcoholics More Prone to Sleep Disturbances During Recovery

Posted on April 23rd, 2014
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

Sleep disturbance is the general term for a disruption of your normal ability to fall asleep during a designated sleeping time, stay asleep throughout a designated sleeping time or otherwise gain the restful benefits of sleep. People seriously affected by such disruptions may qualify for an official diagnosis of a sleep disorder. In a study published in January/February 2014 in the American Journal on Addictions, researchers from the Mayo Clinic sought to determine how many people diagnosed with alcoholism are affected by sleep disturbances before and after participating in a treatment program. These researchers also sought to identify any factors that can contribute to a recovering alcoholic’s chances of experiencing sleep improvements during treatment.

The Basics

Adults and teenagers over the age of 17 need seven to nine hours of sleep a night in order to function normally during daylight hours, avoid daytime sleepiness and lower their risks for the onset of chronic health problems such as depression, type 2 diabetes and heart and blood vessel disease. Teenagers below the age of 18 and younger children need even more sleep to support their ongoing good health. Sleep disturbances produce their basic damaging effects by reducing your chances of getting adequate amounts of sleep. While some people only experience these disturbances occasionally, or only experience them in very mild form, others have sleeping problems severe enough to meet the criteria for a sleep disorder diagnosis. The most common sleep disorders diagnosed in the U.S. include insomnia, sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. Another relatively common sleep disorder, called narcolepsy, does not stem from nighttime disturbed sleep; instead, it involves uncontrolled episodes of daytime sleepiness and a simultaneous loss of normal muscle control.

Sleep and Alcohol

Significant numbers of American adults attempt to use alcohol to ease the impact of sleep disturbances or diagnosable sleep disorders. On the surface, this may seem to make sense, since the presence of alcohol in your bloodstream can make you more likely to fall asleep. However, sleep specialists are well aware that substantial alcohol consumption has an overall negative impact on your chances of sleeping throughout the night and feeling well rested when you wake in the morning. Specifically, alcohol intake tends to disrupt sleep in the hours closer to daytime and limit the number of hours during which restful sleep occurs. During sleep, an alcoholic may temporarily enter a state of alcohol withdrawal, which manifests through symptoms such as excessive sweat production, nightmares and an unusually high level of body mobility.

Sleep Disturbances and Alcoholism Recovery

In the study published in the American Journal on Addictions, the Mayo Clinic researchers used a tool called the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index to measure the presence of sleep disturbances in a group 196 alcoholism-affected individuals receiving a month of residential treatment in an alcohol program. Each of these individuals also submitted results from a standard screening tool called the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), as well as basic demographic information (gender, age, etc.) and information from a general health screening and a drug use screening. After gathering this information, the researchers excluded all study participants currently affected by diagnosable drug abuse or drug addiction. One hundred nineteen individuals remained in the study after the completion of this exclusion process.

The researchers found that more than two-thirds of the study participants (69.3 percent) were affected by sleep disturbances when they first sought treatment for alcoholism. At the end of treatment one month later, 49.1 percent of the participants were still affected by sleep disturbances. After assessing the impact of a number of potential factors—including the use of sedative-hypnotic medications, risky patterns of alcohol intake, gender and the simultaneous presence of a separate diagnosable mental illness—the researchers concluded that the only factor that consistently predicts a reduction in sleep disturbances during alcoholism treatment is being an older adult.

Significance and Considerations

The authors of the study published in the American Journal on Addictions undertook their work, in part, because they believe that identification of the contributors to sleep disturbances in people affected by alcoholism may help those people simultaneously avoid a relapse into active drinking and improve their sleep. They also believe that identification of any contributing factors can help alcohol programs designed targeted treatments for those people who experience serious sleeping problems upon entering recovery.

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