Binge drinking is a dangerous, damaging pattern of short-term alcohol consumption that occurs frequently among people above and below the legal age for alcohol intake. Individuals who follow this pattern of consumption significantly increase their risks for a whole host of serious health problems. According to the results of two recent studies conducted on both young adults and older adults, one of the common effects of frequent participation in binge drinking is a substantial reduction in the normal ability to either fall asleep or gain the restorative benefits that normally come from sleep.
Binge Drinking Basics
A person who engages in binge drinking consumes enough alcohol to reach a legally intoxicated state in a matter of a couple of hours or less. As a rule, consumption of five drinks or more in the given timeframe will push adult men past the legal limit. Adult women typically need to consume four drinks or more. Habitual binge drinkers of both genders face a number of common short- and long-term health problems as a consequence of their alcohol intake. Potential short-term consequences include alcohol poisoning, increased chances of participating in risky sexual activities, increased risks for involvement in car crashes or other accidents, and increased risks for being either the perpetrator or recipient of intentional violence. Potential long-term consequences include increased risks for nerve damage, liver disease, stroke and other forms of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes complications and impotence. Women who binge drink also face increased odds for giving birth to children affected by fetal alcohol syndrome. Binge drinking is common among both young and old people across the U.S. For example, regardless of age, more than nine out of every 10 people who consume alcohol excessively binge drink at least once a month, according to figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All told, more than 50 percent of all adults binge drink. This rate rises to 70 percent among adults age 26 or older. Among underage drinkers, the rate rises to 90 percent.
Humans rely on adequate sleep to remain sufficiently alert during waking hours, summon the brain power to take in new information or remember previously obtained information, stay aware of changing circumstances in their local environments and keep their immune systems, cell repair mechanisms and digestive functions working properly. Conversely, a lack of adequate, restful sleep is associated with significant short- and long-term problems that include a diminished capacity for reason or sound judgment, mood instability, higher accident rates, poor memory recall and memory formation, reduced cardiovascular health and heightened risks for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Effects on the Young and Old
In a study published in September 2013 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from two U.S. institutions used an examination of 14,089 people to assess the connection between binge drinking and reduced sleep quality in young adults. These researchers found that young adult drinkers in general, and young adult binge drinkers in particular, experience a substantially higher rate of sleep-related problems than the rest of the adult population. They also found that the risks for sleep-related problems rise as any given young adult’s participation in binge drinking increases. In addition, the researchers concluded that the sleeping difficulties found among young adult binge drinkers appear regardless of the potential influence of mental health problems in affected individuals. In a study presented in June 2013 to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, researchers from Johns Hopkins University examined the sleep-related effects of binge drinking in adults age 55 or older. Specifically, they looked at a group of 4,970 people in this age group who completed questionnaires designed to assess their level of participation in binge drinking, as well as the frequency of their sleeping difficulties. After reviewing their data, the researchers concluded that older adults who binge drink at least twice a week experience sleeplessness (insomnia) fully 84 percent more frequently than older adults who binge drink less often or don’t binge drink at all. Slightly more than one-quarter of the individuals involved in the study participated in binge drinking twice a week or less, while roughly 3 percent participated in binge drinking more often than twice a week.
Significance and Considerations
The authors of the study presented to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine believe they are the first researchers to identify the connection between binge drinking and insomnia in older adults. The authors of the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence point toward a need for future studies to increase the level of scientific and practical knowledge regarding the connection between binge drinking and sleep problems in young adults.