Ohio Neurologic Institute

Specializing in Neurologic and Sleep Disorders

Alcohol

           It is estimated that 100,000 brain cells die every day in the average human.  Fortunately, the human brain has an extremely large reservoir of brain cells. 

           Alcohol kills brain cells and cells in the peripheral nervous system (and is one of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathies in the United States).  Alcohol dissolves membranes and kills living tissue (including brain,  liver and bacteria).  This is why alcohol is used to clean your skin before needles are inserted to draw blood, start IVs, etc.

           In addition to being addicting and causing liver and brain damage, alcohol can cause significant problems with sleep. Many people take alcohol at night to try to help them fall asleep.  This is not a good idea and in fact can be quite harmful.

           If you have obstructive sleep apnea, alcohol can  make the apnea much worse.  If patients with significant apnea imbibe heavily before going to sleep it is quite possible to stop breathing and die. Narcotics are also quite dangerous in patients with sleep apnea can also contribute to worsening of the apnea and death. 

          Vomiting after heavy drinking is not uncommon.  If a person drinks heavily, falls asleep and vomits, he (or she) may be so sedated that they can not cough or clear their airway.  Drinking before bed can sedate a person to the point that if  they should vomit while sleeping  they may not be able to cough effectively or clear their airway.  This can result in vomit in the lungs (so-called aspiration pneumonia) which is a serious problem and can cause death.

           The prospect of killing the brain, nervous system, and liver with alcohol should be a sobering thought.  If you have sleep apnea, making the apneas worse and the idea of inducing a potentially terminal apnea should dissuade one from drinking especially at bedtime.

           But the question for many is “How about just a little nightcap? Just to relax and help fall asleep?”  This is a bad idea

           While alcohol is initially sedating, this effect wears off after several hours and often results in so-called rebound  (waking up after the alcohol effect has worn off  with inability to fall back asleep is common.  Alcohol, like many sleep-inducing medications, can be addicting.  Alcohol has many toxic and deleterious side effects including the potential to induce terminal apneas (i.e. death).  Alcohol, even in the short run, worsens  sleep problems due to rebound and should not be taken for asleep induction. 

All information included in this website is posted as a courtesy service to current and prospective patients and their families. Information here should not be substituted for direct advise from a physician or a physician’s representative. If unclear about your medical condition, you should contact your physician immediately.

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Copyright © 2006 Ohio Neurologic Institute Inc.

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