There are countless reasons why a person might not be able to properly sleep at night. Anxiety, stress, difficulty breathing, and physical pain are only a few of the many obstacles that can prevent the brain from shutting down alpha activity and preparing for REM sleep, and for some it can feel impossible to go to sleep. Although there are varied treatments that scientists and doctors have developed – from physical exercises throughout the day to sleep aids and other medications – many are unwilling, or simply unable, to receive these treatments for one reason or another. Many of them turn to home remedies, with alcohol among the most used. Using alcohol as a sleep aid has been given as prevalent advice from many societies for hundreds – or even thousands – of years. Alcohol is seen by many as having a positive effect on helping the restless go to sleep faster, and though this seems to initially be the case for those who consume alcohol before sleep, new research has confirmed that alcohol also causes disturbances while the person is asleep.

“People likely tend to focus on the commonly reported sedative properties of alcohol, which is reflected in shorter times to fall asleep, particularly in adults, rather than the sleep disruption that occurs later in the night,” said Christian L. Nicholas, of the University of Melbourne, who was one of the researchers who looked at the effects of alcohol on the brain before and during sleep. Those using alcohol as a sleep aid may think it is helping counter-act their restlessness, but in fact it may be adding to it. The team’s study included 24 healthy people, 12 men and 12 women, from the ages of 18 to 21 years old and who socially drank (with less than seven standard drinks consumed per week in the month leading up to the study). They engaged in pre-sleep alcohol activities as well as placebos, and their brains were measured for delta frequency electroencephalogram (EEG) activity of Slow Wave Sleep (SWS), which helps promote restful sleep, as well as frontal alpha power, which is associated with wakeful states of the brain. The results from all participants were an increase in both EEG activity as well as frontal alpha power. This explains why alcohol initially seems to promote restful sleep, with the increase of the EEG activity, and also explains why so many report either sleep disturbances throughout the night or a lack of restful rejuvenation from the hours they do sleep. “Similar increases in alpha-delta activity, which are associated with poor or unrefreshing sleep and daytime function, have been observed in individuals with chronic pain conditions,” Nicholas said, adding that this study confirms that alcohol is not a sleep aid. The additional sleep that someone may get from pre-sleep alcohol consumption is disturbed and altered because of the alcohol, negating any positive effects. The best way to fight restlessness is to consult a sleep specialist, or at the very least a physician, who can recommend cheap-to-free alternatives to alcohol consumption to get your needed rest at night.