06/14/2013 08:50 am ET

Binge Drinking Hurts Sleep For Older Adults, Study Finds


Binge drinking can raise the risk for a multitude of health problems, including alcohol poisoning, injuries, heart risks (like high blood pressure and stroke) and liver disease. And now, a new study shows that it could also be associated with problems falling asleep for older adults.

The study, presented at the annual SLEEP 2013 conference, shows that frequent binge drinking -- defined as having four or more drinks in one occasion, for two or more days a week -- is linked with insomnia symptoms in adults age 55 and older.

"Clinicians and health care providers should be aware of and discuss the use of alcohol with their older patients, particularly those who report poor sleep," study researcher Sarah Canham, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Drug Dependence Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement. "Binge drinking behaviors may be an appropriate target for improving poor sleep."

The study included 4,970 people ages 55 and older who answered questions about their alcohol consumption, including how many times in the past three months they'd binge-drank, meaning they'd had four or more drinks in an occasion; researchers used this information to calculate, on average, how many times a week they participated in binge drinking. The participants also answered questions about their sleep habits, including whether they had problems falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, or feeling unrested "most of the time."

Researchers found that the odds of having insomnia symptoms were 84 percent greater among the participants who reported binge drinking an average of more than two days a week.

Even though binge drinking may be considered an activity more common among younger adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that older adults (those ages 65 and older) binge drink more often.

Alcohol is known to disrupt sleep, with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reporting that consuming high amounts of the substance leads to disturbed sleep. A recent study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research also showed that it boosts the amount of time people spend in "deep sleep," but then lowers the amount of time they spend in REM sleep -- an important phase of sleep for memory, motor skills and concentration.

"In sum, alcohol on the whole is not useful for improving a whole night's sleep," Chris Idzikowski, the director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre and researcher of that study, said in a statement. "Sleep may be deeper to start with, but then becomes disrupted. Additionally, that deeper sleep will probably promote snoring and poorer breathing. So, one shouldn't expect better sleep with alcohol."