Impact of evening alcohol consumption on nocturnal autonomic and cardiovascular function in adult men and women: a dose-response laboratory investigation

Sleep. 2021 Jan 21;44(1):zsaa135. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsaa135.


Study objectives: To investigate the dose-dependent impact of moderate alcohol intake on sleep-related cardiovascular (CV) function, in adult men and women.

Methods: A total of 26 healthy adults (30-60 years; 11 women) underwent 3 nights of laboratory polysomnographic (PSG) recordings in which different doses of alcohol (low: 1 standard drink for women and 2 drinks for men; high: 3 standard drinks for women and 4 drinks for men; placebo: no alcohol) were administered in counterbalanced order before bedtime. These led to bedtime average breath alcohol levels of up to 0.02% for the low doses and around 0.05% for the high doses. Autonomic and CV function were evaluated using electrocardiography, impedance cardiography, and beat-to-beat blood pressure monitoring.

Results: Presleep alcohol ingestion resulted in an overall increase in nocturnal heart rate (HR), suppressed total and high-frequency (vagal) HR variability, reduced baroreflex sensitivity, and increased sympathetic activity, with effects pronounced after high-dose alcohol ingestion (p's < 0.05); these changes followed different dose- and measure-dependent nocturnal patterns in men and women. Systolic blood pressure showed greater increases during the morning hours of the high-alcohol dose night compared to the low-alcohol dose night and placebo, in women only (p's < 0.05).

Conclusions: Acute evening alcohol consumption, even at moderate doses, has marked dose- and time-dependent effects on sleep CV regulation in adult men and women. Further studies are needed to evaluate the potential CV risk of repeated alcohol-related alterations in nighttime CV restoration in healthy individuals and in those at high risk for CV diseases, considering sex and alcohol dose and time effects.

Keywords: alcohol; autonomic; cardiovascular; polysomnography; sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking*
  • Autonomic Nervous System*
  • Baroreflex
  • Blood Pressure
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Laboratories
  • Male