Can Alcohol Help Me Sleep?

Allen Blaivas, M.D. Health Pro
  • Question: Does alcohol reduce REM sleep?  Can alcohol make me have more vivid dreams?

     

    Dr. Blaivas:  Alcohol is often used as a sleep inducer by patients, but current medical evidence suggests that this practice might be counterproductive.  The effects of alcohol on sleep are variable but let me note a few important points.  Early on in the night, alcohol can induce sleep, but the second half of the sleep period, after the alcohol is metabolized (about 4-5 hours after sleep onset), is characterized by a fragmented, disruptive sleep.  Alcohol actually suppresses REM during the early part of the night, but most studies show that there is a “rebound” of REM later on.  This can account for the increase in vivid dreams that you asked about, since most dreams occur in REM, if REM is increased dreaming will also likely increase.  Also it should be noted that virtually all research studies done on this topic suggest that the sleep effects of alcohol, both the sedative effects and the alteration of REM tend to disappear within 3 nights.  So use of alcohol chronic as sleep aid is not likely to be helpful.  Lastly, alcohol is known to worsen or occasionally even induce sleep apnea.

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Published On: April 17, 2007