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Sleep in endurance sports – Part 6: Sleep and alcohol

Today follows the 6th part of our sleep theme series. We will explain the effects of alcohol on sleep. What exactly does alcohol do to our body? Can even the smallest amount of alcohol upset our sleep rhythm? If you have any questions, write to us, and we will answer them in our next Podcast!

How does alcohol affect the body?

  • The effect is dose- and condition-dependent
  • 3 modes of action: Stimulation, disinhibition and emotional inhibition (1)
  • Low doses: excitatory effect
  • Higher doses: inhibiting effect
  • Negative effects on calcium – regulation mechanisms
  • Addiction potential is based on the positively experienced effects (euphoria, disinhibition, relaxation)

What effects does alcohol have on our sleep?

Low dose: 

  • First half of the night: sleep induction and an increase in deep sleep (4)
  • Second half of the night: associated with many waking phases (3)
  • Shortening the REM phases

High dose: 

  • Without regulation: sleep disorders
  • Significantly shorter deep sleep (N3) and highly significant shorter REM phases
  • A higher dose may affect breathing: snoring or sleep apnea
  • Extreme stress for the body

Abstinent alcoholics: 

  • Cortical atrophy (associated with dementia) (2)

Summary 

In general, there is nothing wrong with a small amount of alcohol. However, a night with several waking phases in the second half of the night must then be expected. A frequent occurrence can lead to an increased stress level and lack of sleep. 

Sources

  1. Kurella, B., & Heitmann, A. (1993). Alkohol und Schlaf. In Schlaf, Gesundheit, Leistungsfähigkeit (pp. 35-38). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
  2. Ihibashi M., Nakazawa Y., Yokoyama T., Koga Y., Hayashida N. & Ouse, K. (1987). Cerebral atrophy and slow wave sleep of abstinent chronic alcoholics. Drug Alcohol Dependance. 19: 325 – 332.
  3. Thomas Pollmächer von der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Psychosomatik und Nervenheilkunde (DGPPN) mit Sitz in Berlin
  4. Ebrahim, I. O., Shapiro, C. M., Williams, A. J., & Fenwick, P. B. (2013). Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37(4), 539-549.