A new multi-year MU study says alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to regulate sleep.

Researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia have found that drinking alcohol to fall asleep interferes with the body’s sleep-regulating mechanism. Dr. Mahesh Thakkar says the results show that alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid.

“If you take alcohol for the first day, the second day, the third day, the fourth day you have to take more alcohol to get the same amount of sleep,” Dr. Thakkar says. “So you’re going to get tolerance, and once you get tolerance there’s a very likelihood that you’re going to become dependent.”

Thakkar says about 20 percent of American adults drink alcohol to help fall asleep. Thakkar and his researchers have studied alcohol’s effects on sleep for more than five years.

The study has found that alcohol interferes with the brain’s built-in system for regulating a person’s need for sleep.

“But in the second half your REM sleep, you know you have a rebound of REM sleep, which is like a dream sleep, and so what happens is your sleep is completely fragmented,” says Thakkar.

He says alcohol disrupts sleep and that the quality of sleep is diminished.

Dr. Thakkar, who is the MU School of Medicine Neurology Department’s research director, also encourages residents to get tested for apnea, if they’re having sleep issues. Thakkar says sleep apnea is easily treated.

“And if you don’t treat it, you have other problems like heart problems you know and mental problems, heart problems, memory concentration, dementia and so on,” Thakkar says.

Apnea can be checked by undergoing a sleep study at a medical facility, where all aspects of sleep are monitored. Sleep studies are painless.