Decades-long study explores link between alcohol and poor quality of sleep - what researchers found

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  • The study looked at establishing a link between poor sleep and alcohol consumption.
  • The study participants were observed for almost forty years.
  • Moderate to heavy drinkers were more likely to experience poor quality of sleep.

Alcohol is known to have a negative impact on people’s mental health. Despite this, some people also use alcohol to help them sleep.

Now, a new study spanning more than three decades has, however, found that heavy or binge drinking impairs people's quality of sleep, making them more susceptible to physical and mental health disorders.

The study, published in preprint server Medrxiv, investigated the role of alcohol in poor quality of sleep and insomnia.

The researchers used data from the Older Finnish Twin Cohort. The participants consisted of 13 851 identical twins born between 1945 and 1957. The twins filled out surveys over the years. The first survey took place in 1975, with three follow-up health and lifestyle surveys in 1981, 1990 and 2011.

Linking sleep and alcohol consumption

Participants in all four surveys responded on whether their sleep was “good”, “fairly good”, “fairly poor” or “poor”.

To evaluate the link between sleep and alcohol consumption, the researchers looked at monthly alcohol consumption as reported, and categorised participants as “heavy drinkers”, “moderate drinkers”, “light drinkers”, and “abstainers”. Heavy drinkers reported consuming more than seven drinks per week for women and more than 14 drinks per week for men.

More alcohol, less sleep

The study found that high volumes of alcohol are associated with poor sleep quality. Furthermore, moderate and heavy alcohol consumption were found to precede poor sleep in the long term.

“Our research implies that long-term alcohol drinking in adulthood predicts decreased sleep quality later in life, and that familial factors do not fully account for this association,” the authors write.

The researchers also highlight that consuming both moderate and large amounts of alcohol negatively influences sleep quality over time and increases the risk of chronic sleep problems, and affects overall health.

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