Nov. 8, 2010 -- Contrary to the widely held belief, drinking alcohol does not appear to cause sleep problems, a new study finds.
"It surprises us," says study researcher Daniel C. Vinson, MD, MSPH, a professor of family medicine at the University of Missouri in Columbia. "We looked at these results every which way to see if alcohol causes sleep problems, and it just didn't come out that way." The new findings appear in the November/December issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.
Some sleep experts are not quite convinced of the findings because they were based on participants' self-reports of alcohol use and sleep issues.
In the new study of 1,699 adults from 40 different primary care practices, alcohol had no bearing on self-reported insomnia (a sleep disorder marked by difficulty falling or staying asleep), overall sleep quality, or restless legs syndrome symptoms. But people who said they used alcohol to sleep were more likely to be "hazardous drinkers."
"This may be an item that doctors should listen for," Vinson says. "If the patient says they drink alcohol at bedtime, a doctor should explore their alcohol use in greater detail.”
"If you are using alcohol to sleep, you may need to rethink your drinking habits," he says.
Alcohol Use, Sleep Problems Common
Twenty percent of women and one-quarter of men in the study met criteria for hazardous drinking based on their responses to one of two alcohol screening tests.
Sleep problems were also common in the study. Nearly half of the participants said their sleep quality was "poor" or "fair" during the past month, and about 25% said they used an over-the-counter or prescription medication at least once a week to get to sleep.