Long-Term Alcoholism Affects Sleep, Even after Periods of Abstinence
Ian Colrain, PhD, director of the SRI International Human Sleep Research Program and a professional fellow in psychology at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and a team of researchers studied 42 alcoholics from an inpatient treatment program, and 42 non-drinkers. The males generally had a longer history of alcoholism than females.
The researchers screened the participants were screened for sleep problems as well as medical and psychiatric problems. They measured the participants’ sleep through polysomnography, and they also used EEG to evaluate the effects of alcoholism.
They found that for long-term alcoholics who abstained from alcohol for at least 719 days, their percentage of slow-wave sleep was much lower than for those who have no history of alcoholism. Former heavy drinkers had far more non-rapid eye movement sleep than non-heavy drinkers. These are all characteristics of poor sleep quality, which can affect the cognitive decline of alcoholics.
Although the study found that women slept better and woke up less often than men, women still show the same pattern of sleep disturbances as men.
Dr. Colrain said the study found a significant increase in the percentage of REM sleep in alcoholics who hadn’t drank for an extended period of time. This persistence suggests that there could be permanent changes in REM cycles as a result of long-term alcohol abuse.
Dr. Colrain emphasized that there is growing evidence of brain damage that results from heavy drinking, especially in the frontal cortex, which is associated with judgment and risk taking. There is also growing evidence that slow-wave sleep plays a role in memory and other brain functions.