Disturbed sleep is a common complaint and has been associated with a variety of health problems. This article seeks to uncover the role alcohol may play in sleep disorders. The authors undertake a qualitative review of 107 studies that examine the relationship between alcohol consumption and sleep disturbance. Behavioral studies suggest that up to two to three standard drinks before bedtime initially promotes sleep, but chronic use ultimately disrupts sleep patterns, even among those who do not meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence. Clinical studies show an association between sleep disturbance and alcohol use, but the strength and direction of the association is unclear, because of variability in definitions and measurements.
These findings suggest that doctors who evaluate patients with sleep problems should include a careful assessment of alcohol use. In addition, future studies of this relationship should employ rigorous definitions and standardized measures of both sleep disturbance and alcohol use. Finally, there is a need for rigorous treatment studies for chronic insomnia in alcohol-dependent patients so that medical practitioners can determine the most promising interventions in these situations.