Sleep and Alcohol: More Rest, Less Drinking?

sleep and alcohol

What's the relationship between sleep and alcohol? Among the first health benefits that goes out the college freshman dorm window – right after “no junk food – is sleep.

The excitement of new-found freedoms, the abundance of new people and activities, and (not to be forgotten) the new requirements of college classes all add up to one thing: Less sleep.

In previous generations, the concerns surrounding less sleep extended no further than a stern warning that “you’ll get sick.” New research reveals more direct correlations between a lack of sleep and increased substance use.

One such study was published in the Journal of American College Health (JACH) in 2014 and titled “Sleep Quality and Alcohol Risk in College Students: Examining the Moderating Effects of Drinking Motives.”

As the authors note: “Sleep problems and alcohol misuse are common issues experienced by college students that can have detrimental effects on overall health. Previous work indicates a strong relationship between poor sleep quality and alcohol risk in this population.”

Other details:

  • “Overall, sleep duration and quality have gradually declined among college students.”
  • “Up to 50% of students report having irregular sleep schedules, later bedtimes, difficulty sleeping, and sleeping fewer hours than their ideal total sleep time, while approximately 60% report poor overall sleep quality.”
  • “Like alcohol use, insufficient or poor quality sleep is linked to negative outcomes, including missing or falling asleep during class, failing out of school, falling asleep while driving, and impaired cognitive, motor, and emotional functioning. Furthermore, chronic or severe sleep problems may increase risks for later alcohol use disorder.”

What's the Relationship Between Sleep and Alcohol?

Further, “Among college students, individuals reporting poor sleep quality tend to drink more frequently and excessively, experience more alcohol-related negative consequences, and may be at risk for alcohol dependence.”

Indeed, another study published in Sleep, from Oxford University Press, examined “whether differences exist in self-reported sleep patterns and self-reported alcohol use for first-semester college students who do or do not report drinking during the last 6 months of high school.”

The results were clear: “Increased alcohol consumption in the first semester of college was associated with later bedtimes and rise times. We found no association of high school alcohol use and sleep in those with collegiate [heavy episodic drinking episodes].”

So what can this mean for parents, college administrators and even students as they seek to enhance sober living at college?

  • “The JACH authors write that “given the prevalence of sleep problems in college student populations, these findings are potentially valuable for college personnel interested in reducing harms associated with student drinking.”
  • “In the current study, not only were sleep problems common (53.8% reported poor quality sleep), but poor sleep predicted greater experience of alcohol-related consequences, over and above established predictors of alcohol risk.”
  • “These findings thus provide strong support for the need for alcohol prevention interventions that include a sleep component in order to address these co-occurring risk behaviors simultaneously.”
  • “From a treatment perspective, there is evidence that improvement in sleep problems is associated with abstaining or reducing drinking among individuals diagnosed with co-occurring sleep and alcohol use disorders.”