Alcohol and Sleep: A Bigger Problem for Women

Alcohol or a placebo - How does that work, exactly?

Posted Feb 16, 2011

ScienceDaily (2011-02-15) - Researchers have known for decades that alcohol can initially deepen sleep during the early part of the night but then disrupt sleep during the latter part of the night; this is called a "rebound effect." A new study of the influence of gender and family history of alcoholism on sleep has found that intoxication can increase feelings of sleepiness while at the same time disrupt actual sleep measures in healthy women more than in healthy men.

"Alcohol increased self-reported sleepiness and disrupted sleep quality more in women than men," said Arnedt. "Sleep quality following alcohol did not differ between family-history positive and family-history negative subjects. Morning ratings of sleep quality were worse following alcohol than placebo. Findings also confirmed results from other studies that a high dose of alcohol solidifies sleep in the first half of the night, meaning more deep sleep, but disrupts it in the second part of the night, meaning more wakefulness."

With respect to gender differences, women objectively had fewer hours of sleep, woke more frequently and for more minutes during the night, and had more disrupted sleep than men.

The researchers hypothesized that the gender differences are due to the fact that women metabolize alcohol differently than men.  Women's breath alcohol concentration declined more rapidly than men's breath alcohol concentration.

In addition, study participants who had a family history of alcoholism took a longer time to get intoxicated.  In addition, prior alcohol use was the same in men and women, regardless of family history.

I have a question about the following:

Between 8:30 and 10:00 p.m., participants consumed either a placebo beverage or alcohol to the point of intoxication as determined by breath alcohol concentration (BrAC). The study participants either drank alcohol or a placebo until their breath alcohol concentration showed they were intoxicated.

Maybe I'm not understanding something here - they drank a placebo until they were intoxicated?  And I'm assuming study participants knew it was a placebo, because how do you make a placebo that smells and tastes like alcohol?  I feel like I'm overlooking a simple answer to that.