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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Alcoholism May Alter Sleep Long-Term

Study: Alcoholism May Leave Lasting Effect on Sleep Patterns, Even After Sobriety
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 1, 2009 -- Even if they quit drinking, alcoholics still have differences in their sleep when compared with other people, a new study shows.

The study, published in the Oct. 1 edition of the journal Sleep, included 42 alcoholics who had quit drinking and 42 people with no history of alcoholism. The alcoholics had been sober for anywhere from 30 days to more than two years.

All participants spent a night at a sleep lab, hooked up to monitors that showed their brain activity.

Compared with people with no history of alcoholism, the alcoholics had less slow-wave sleep and spent more of their sleep time in the early stage of sleep and in REM sleep. Those patterns were the same for male and female alcoholics.

The REM findings surprised the researchers, who included Ian Colrain, PhD, of SRI International, a nonprofit research institute in Menlo Park, Calif.

Colrain and colleagues note that increased REM sleep might be expected in people who had recently quit drinking to make up for the reduction that heavy drinking takes on REM sleep.

The fact that that difference persisted despite long-term sobriety suggests that alcoholism might have a lasting effect on sleep, Colrain's team notes.

The study doesn't prove that alcoholism caused those differences in sleep patterns.

But "self-reported sleep problems are ubiquitous in those suffering from alcohol abuse and dependence," Colrain's team writes.

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