Impact of Alcoholism on Sleep Architecture and EEG Power Spectra in Men and Women


Colrain IM; Turlington S; Baker FC. Impact Of Alcoholism On Sleep Architecture And EEG Power Spectra In Men And Women. SLEEP 2009;32(10):1341-1352.


Study Objectives

To determine the impact of alcoholism on sleep architecture and sleep EEG power spectra in men and women with uncomplicated alcoholism.

Design and Participants

42 alcoholics (27 men) and 42 controls (19 men) screened for medical, psychiatric, and sleep problems participated in a full night of polysomnography following an adaptation night. Data were collected from multiple scalp sites and subjected to power spectral analysis. Sleep architecture and EEG spectral power measures were evaluated for the effects of diagnosis and sex using age as a covariate.


Compared with controls, alcoholics had less slow wave sleep and increased proportions of stage 1 and REM sleep. Spectral analysis of NREM sleep showed reduced levels of slow wave activity (SWA, 0.3–4 Hz) and slow θ (theta) power (4–6 Hz) in alcoholics. The differences in SWA extended across the slow band (0.3–1 Hz) and all δ (delta) frequencies and were most prominent over frontal scalp regions. No group differences were seen in the power spectra of REM sleep. Women had more SWA and θ power than men, but there were no sex by diagnosis interactions for any measures, suggesting that alcoholism does not differentially influence men and women.


Long-term alcoholism affects sleep even after long periods of abstinence in both men and women. Measures of frontal slow wave activity were particularly sensitive markers of this long-lasting effect. Sleep EEG measures would thus seem to provide a functional correlate of the changes in brain structure seen in frontal cortex of long-term alcoholics.

Keywords: Alcoholism, sleep, K-complex, N550, delta, sex

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