Binge drinking may cause sleep problems in older adults, research has revealed.

The study, which investigated the sleeping and drinking habits of almost 6,500 adults aged 55 and above, showed that frequent binge drinkers were more likely to suffer from insomnia.

Those who binged for more than two days a week (on average) had a 64% greater chance of reporting insomnia-related symptoms compared to non-binge drinkers.

insomnia old

Binge drinking is linked to sleep problems in older adults

Results revealed that 30% of participants had two or less binge drinking days per week and 3% had more than two days per week, on average.

What is binge drinking?

According to the NHS, binge drinking refers to drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk.

The NHS say that it is difficult to define quantities as tolerance and drinking speed varies from person to person.

They recommend:

  • Men should not regularly (every day or most days of the week) drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day.
  • Women should not regularly drink more than two to three units a day.
  • If you've had a heavy drinking session, avoid alcohol for 48 hours.

"It was somewhat surprising that frequent binge drinking (more than 2 binge drinking days per week, on average), but not occasional binge drinking (more than zero, but less than 2 binge drinking days per week, on average) had a significant association with self-reported insomnia symptoms," explained the study's lead author Sarah Canham, PhD.

The study involved 6,466 community-dwelling adults aged 55 and above from the 2004 wave of the Health and Retirement Study who reported having ever consumed alcohol.

Participants reported the number of days on which they had "four or more drinks on one occasion" in the prior three months.

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  • Bedtime routine

    Build time into your day for a bedtime routine-we are more like dimmer switches than ‘on-off switches’ so we need time to unwind. This may include a warm bath, a hot milky drink/chamomile tea and listening to some relaxing music or an audio book.

  • Pull your socks up

    Wear socks to bed. Cold feet = a poor night's sleep. Due to the fact that they have the poorest circulation, the feet often feel cold before the rest of the body and studies have shown that wearing socks reduces night awakenings.

  • Use sunlight to set your body clock

    As soon as you get up in the morning, go outside and get some fresh air for 10 minutes. The bright sunlight (or any bright light) tells your body’s natural biological clock that it’s time to wake up and that same clock will then be set to tell your body it’s time to go to sleep about 14-16 hours later.

  • Keep regular

    Don't change your bedtime. You should go to bed and wake up at about the same time each day, even on the weekends! This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning.

  • Bed linen

    Change your bedding once a week and dust regularly. Fresh crisp sheets will help you get a better night’s sleep and clearing excess dust can help minimise any irritation in the airways, which could disrupt sleep. Review your bed linen for a better night’s sleep and choose sheets that feel comfortable against your skin. Research carried out by Lenor has shown that 74% of people surveyed slept drastically better on freshly washed bed sheets.

  • Stay cool

    If you're too warm it can lead to a fitful night's sleep. Your body works hard to regulate your temperature while you're asleep, so help it along with cool, breathable cottons and keep the room cool at 16-18 degrees centigrade. If you share your bed and like different temperatures consider buying two separate duvets.

  • Exercise to sleep

    Regular exercisers have better quality sleep. Aerobic exercise in particular has a significant impact on sleep particularly when it’s done in daylight so try to integrate exercise into your life by moving throughout the day eg getting off the bus one stop early, taking a walk in your lunch break etc.

  • Set yourself a technology cut off time

    Computers, mobiles, smart phones and TVs all over stimulate our minds and ruin sleep, so try to turn them off at around 9pm. Where possible keep them out of the bedroom.

  • Room and bed sheet fragrance

    Fragrances can set the tone of the room and generate a calming effect which will induce better quality deep sleep leaving you more rested, energetic and alert the next morning. Filling the bedroom with lavender or chamomile scents around an hour before bedtime will create the proper atmosphere for relaxation, sleep or romance. Try washing your sheets in fragrant Lenor fabric softener or alternatively place a few drops of relaxing aromatherapy oils on your pillow.

  • Lights out

    Sleep in complete darkness or as close to that as you can. There also should be as little light in the bathroom as possible if you get up in the middle of the night. As soon as you turn on the light, your body will immediately cease all production of the important sleep aid melatonin which regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

Authors used responses to calculate the mean number of binge drinking days per week, which was the primary predictor.

Participants also reported the frequency of difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking too early or feeling unrested in the morning. Those reporting any of these "most of the time" were considered to have an insomnia symptom, which served as the outcome.

The study was published in the journal Sleep. Lead author Canham presented the findings on 3 June at SLEEP 2013, the 27th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC.