Too Big a Nightcap May Not Help Sleep

Binge drinking linked to insomnia symptoms in older adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) It may seem that throwing back extra drinks would help folks fall asleep faster and sleep better overall. But that may not be true for those having more than four drinks at a time.

A recent study found that those who binge drank more than two days a week were more likely to have insomnia problems.

Binge drinking was defined as four or more drinks in one sitting. The study focused on adults aged 55 and older.

It's not clear whether binge drinking causes insomnia or whether people with insomnia symptoms also happen to binge drink more often.

"Reduce your binge drinking episodes."

The study, led by Sarah Canham, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Drug Dependence Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, looked at the relationship between older individuals' sleeping and drinking habits.

The researchers studied 6,466 adults who were aged 55 and older and said they had ever drunk alcohol.

The participants were asked how many days in the past three months they had drink "four or more drinks on one occasion," which was defined as binge drinking.

This response was used to estimate how many times a week the participants binge drank each week: 0 days, between 0 and two days and more than two days a week.

The participants also answered questions about whether they found it difficult to fall asleep, whether they had difficulty staying asleep, whether they woke up too early and if they didn't feel rested in the morning.

If the participants said they felt any of those symptoms "most of the time," the researchers considered them to have insomnia symptoms.

A little under a third of the participants (30 percent) reported between 0 and two days of binge drinking each week. Three percent binge drank more than two days a week.

The researchers made adjustments to their analysis to account for differences in the participants' demographics (age, socioeconomic groups, etc.), their medical symptoms and their depression symptoms.

After these adjustments, they found that participants who binge drank more than two days a week were 64 percent more likely to have insomnia symptoms than those who did not binge drink at all.

The researchers also found a very small increase in insomnia among those who binge drank between 0 and two days a week, but this finding could have been due to chance.

"Results suggest that frequent binge drinking may contribute to insomnia symptoms among older people," the researchers concluded. "The high prevalence of both binge drinking and sleep complaints in this population warrants further investigation into binge drinking as a potential cause of late-life insomnia."

The research was presented June 3 at SLEEP 2013, the annual meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Three authors also receive funding from the Drug Dependence Epidemiology Training Program at Johns Hopkins, which receives funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Review Date: 
June 10, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013