"There is a strong relationship between alcohol and sleep," said Dwayne Godwin, Ph.D., senior researcher. "Many people have sleep problems when they stop drinking. If we could stabilize sleep, or take it back to a normal rhythm, it would address one of the reasons that alcoholics go back to drinking."
Godwin and colleagues studied the relationship between sleep and alcohol in monkeys. They found that in animals that chronically drank alcohol, the brain attempts to increase a particular protein associated with brain waves that are important to normal sleep. The finding suggests that new medications to target the protein might improve sleep in chronic alcohol users.
"If we can find a way to solve the problem of sleep disturbance, it could possibly affect the outcome of addiction treatment," said Godwin.
Previous research in animals and humans has shown that alcohol initially acts as a sedative in casual drinkers, making it easier to sleep. But in the second half of the night, sleep is often disrupted. In chronic alcohol users, the brain develops a tolerance to the sedative effects of alcohol and there is an increase in light sleep and a decrease in restorative sleep. This may prompt alcohol users to increase their consumption to try to improve sleep. One study revealed that 44 percent to 60 percent of alcohol patients used alcohol to help them sleep.
Godwin said the brain adapts to long-term alcohol use and doesn't immediately return to normal when alcohol use is stopped. It may take months for the brain to revert to normal sleep patterns, or it may never return to
Contact: Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center