Alcohol And Seniors


Alcohol and Sleep

Lack of sleep can have serious consequences for people, including increasing their risk of depression, impaired breathing, and heart disease. People over 65 often awaken 20 times or more during the night. This can leading to a restless sleep.

Some seniors may turn to alcohol as a sleep remedy. A senior's sleep may be interrupted because of pain. Alcohol may initially help a person go to sleep, but then the person wakes up a couple of hours later.


Alcohol's Direct Effect on Older Adult's Sleep

Dream Sleep: Alcohol disrupts the dream stage of sleep (REM sleep). That means that the older adult ends up with even poorer sleep, often with increasing anxiety, chronic tiredness, and impaired concentration.

Snoring: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) notes that alcohol can also affect a person's breathing at night. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) interrupts breathing.  The person wakes up, starts breathing again, and returns to sleep. This pattern can happen hundreds of times each night. This significantly reduces a person's sleep time and results in the person being sleepy  in the daytime. People who have alcohol problems are at increased risk for sleep apnea, especially if they snore. 

Sleep Patterns: NIAAA also notes that  alcohol can seriously and permanently disrupt the person's ability to sleep well.  Some people's  sleep patterns may never return to normal, even after years of abstinence. A person may start drinking again, hoping it will help him or her sleep. It might for a short while, but as drinking continues, the person's sleep patterns become disrupted again.


For more detailed information on Alcohol and Sleep, see the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Alert No. 41 (July, 1998).

Getting a Good Night's Sleep

There are numerous Internet resources that provide useful information about improving the chance of getting a good night's sleep.  See for example the  National Sleep FoundationIt offers many of the typical recommendations to improve sleep:

 -reducing caffeine,

- avoiding alcohol,

- moderate exercise  but earlier in the day,

- having a regular bed routine,

- relaxation before bed,

plus a few that are particularly relevant  to older adults, such as considering how good your bed is.


Understanding the Mattress Matter: Many older adults have kept the same mattress for 25 or more years, a point at which the mattress will have outlived its intended longevity. In the beginning, some older adults may not be willing to consider spending that amount of money on a new mattress ("I'm old.  What if I only have it for a few years, and then I die?")  and some worry about "fast talking salespeople".




Aldrich, M.S. Effects of alcohol on sleep. In: Lisansky Gomberg, E.S., et al., eds. Alcohol Problems and Aging. NIAAA Research Monograph No. 33. NIH Pub. No. 98-4163. Bethesda, MD: NIAAA,

Hartford, J.T. & Samorajski , T. (1982). "Alcoholism in the geriatric population" J. of the American Geriatrics Society, 30, 18-24.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Alert No. 41 (July, 1998). See:

Williams, H.L., and Rundell, Jr., O.H. "Altered sleep physiology in chronic alcoholics: Reversal with abstinence". Alcohol Clin Exp Res 5(2):318-325, 1981



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