It has long been a practice for years for women to have a glass of wine before bed, or men that glass of scotch after dinner to bring on the makings of a good sleep. However even though this may help you fall asleep from the start, alcohol before bed can then disrupt sleep during the latter part of the night. Women are affected by this rebound affect more than men as a matter of fact.

J. Todd Arnedt, assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Michigan begins:

“It’s clear that a substantial portion of the population uses alcohol on a regular basis to help with sleep problems. This perception may relate to the fact that alcohol helps people fall asleep quickly and they may be less aware of the disruptive effects of alcohol on sleep later in the night.”

Very few alcohol studies, if any, have included female participants and, since women metabolize alcohol differently than men, it seemed reasonable to expect differences by gender.

Metabolism is the body’s process of converting ingested substances to other compounds. Metabolism results in some substances becoming more, and some less, toxic than those originally ingested. Metabolism involves a number of processes, one of which is referred to as oxidation.

Through oxidation, alcohol is detoxified and removed from the blood, preventing the alcohol from accumulating and destroying cells and organs. A minute amount of alcohol escapes metabolism and is excreted unchanged in the breath and in urine. Until all the alcohol consumed has been metabolized, it is distributed throughout the body, affecting the brain and other tissues.

Arnedt continues:

“Our decision to examine family history was based on some observational studies showing different sleep characteristics among family-history positive participants compared to family-history negative participants. Family-history positive individuals also seem to be more resistant to the acute intoxicating effects of alcohol than individuals without a family history of alcoholism.”

The University of Michigan colleagues recruited 93 healthy adults (59 women, 34 men) in their twenties through advertisements in the Boston area, 29 of whom had a positive family history of alcoholism. Between 8:30 and 10:00 p.m., participants consumed either a placebo beverage or alcohol to the point of intoxication as determined by breath alcohol concentration (BrAC). Their sleep was then monitored with polysomnography between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Participants also completed questionnaires at bedtime and upon awakening.

The results demonstrated the following according to the study:

“Alcohol increased self-reported sleepiness and disrupted sleep quality more in women than men. Sleep quality following alcohol did not differ between family-history positive and family-history negative subjects. Morning ratings of sleep quality were worse following alcohol than placebo. Findings also confirmed results from other studies that a high dose of alcohol solidifies sleep in the first half of the night, meaning more deep sleep, but disrupts it in the second part of the night, meaning more wakefulness.”

With respect to gender differences, women objectively had fewer hours of sleep, woke more frequently and for more minutes during the night, and had more disrupted sleep than men.

Studies in the general population indicate that fewer women than men drink. It is estimated that of the 15.1 million alcohol-abusing or alcohol-dependent individuals in the United States, approximately 4.6 million (nearly one-third) are women.

On the whole, women who drink consume less alcohol and have fewer alcohol-related problems and dependence symptoms than men, yet among the heaviest drinkers, women equal or surpass men in the number of problems that result from their drinking.

Drinking behavior differs with the age, life role, and marital status of women. In general, a woman’s drinking resembles that of her husband, siblings, or close friends. Whereas younger women 18 to 34 report higher rates of drinking-related problems than do older women, and the incidence of alcohol dependence is greater among middle-aged women 35 to 49 years of age.

Arnedt concludes:

“These findings may have implications for future studies examining the relationship between sleep quality and risk for the development of alcohol use disorders, as well as studies evaluating how sleep quality relates to relapse among recovering alcoholic individuals.”

Source: University of Michigan

Written by Sy Kraft, B.A.