The regular consumption of alcohol, particularly before going to bed, has long been associated with an increased risk for sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.
What has remained a mystery, however, is exactly how alcohol disrupts sleep patterns. But recent research funded in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may have pinpointed some of the reasons why alcohol adversely affects sleep.
Alcohol and a Bad Night’s Sleep
Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine identified changes in the brain that are likely involved in alcohol-related sleep disturbances.
The team created a model that focused on chemical changes in brain cells that are triggered by alcohol. Data extrapolation led the researchers to believe that chronic drinking (identified as consuming five or more drinks on five or more days a week) can lead to the impairment of cholinergic cells; these cells are responsible for synthesizing the neurotransmitter that signals sensations of arousal and attentiveness.
The chemical changes caused by alcohol may make you feel drowsy, but the resulting sleep is neither restful nor healthy. Even worse, researchers believe the sleep-wake disturbances can last indefinitely, even if a person stops drinking. The results of the study were published in the Sept. 29 edition of Behavioral Brain Research.
Limited Alcohol and Sleep
Although the research targeted the effects of chronic drinking, even a drink or two before bedtime can contribute to fitful sleep.
Citing numerous studies, an NIH bulletin regarding the relationship between alcohol and sleep stated that occasional, moderate doses of alcohol consumed as many as six hours before bed may contribute to long-term changes in the body’s sleep-regulation mechanisms.
The same report detailed that moderate to high doses of alcohol in the evening can cause a narrowing of the air passage, which can lead to episodes of sleep apnea—recurring instances in which a person’s breathing stops during sleep—even among those who do not otherwise have symptoms of sleep apnea. In addition to cycles of interrupted breathing, those with obstructive sleep apnea, which is the most common and dangerous form of sleep apnea, often suffer from regular snoring.
Treating Snoring and Sleep Apnea
While it should be noted that snoring is not always an indicator of sleep apnea, both snoring and sleep apnea are often treatable by your dentist with the use of a custom-made oral device.
Similar in appearance and fit to a sports mouthguard, these dental appliances are designed to fit a person’s unique bite and help maintain an open air passage during sleep. Although snoring may be no more than an annoyance to your sleep partner and family members, sleep apnea can contribute to a heightened risk for severe health complications including heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke if not treated.
Austin, Texas, dentist Dr. Dan Matthews has extensive experience helping patients treat snoring and sleep apnea. If you or a loved one suffers from chronic snoring or other sleep apnea symptoms, please contact Dr. Matthews online or call our dental office at 512-452-2273 to schedule an appointment.