Study: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Reduces Insomnia Symptoms Among Young Drinkers

Study indicates cognitive behavioral therapy may improve sleep and potentially affect alcohol use outcomes among young adult binge drinkers with insomnia.

Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine have found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may improve sleep and potentially affect alcohol use outcomes among young adult binge drinkers with insomnia.

CBT is among the first-line treatments for insomnia, but it has never been tested on young adults who are actively drinking, according to the study.

“The potential for insomnia treatment to influence alcohol-related consequences has significant implications for the prevention and treatment of alcohol use among young adults,” said Mary Beth Miller, PhD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the MU School of Medicine, in a press release. “Given the stigma associated with mental health issues and addiction, it’s crucial to identify other forms of treatment that either influence alcohol outcomes or open the door to alcohol-related treatment.”

CBT was tested in a study of 56 people between 18 and 30 years of age who reported at least 1 binge-drinking episode in the past month, with binge drinking being defined as 4 or more drinks during a single occasion. Participants were then randomly assigned to either 5 weekly sessions of CBT, which is a program that focuses on changing patterns of thinking and behavior, or a single session on sleep hygiene, which focuses on creating optimal sleeping conditions and establishing a bedtime routine.

The CBT session topics included sleep hygiene, sleep restriction, relaxation techniques, behavioral experiments, insomnia prevention discussions, and sleep diary use. Wrist devices were worn by each participant to objectively measure sleep and completed subjective daily sleep and drinking surveys, according to the study.

CBT participants reported a 56% reduction in insomnia severity, compared with a 32% reduction in symptoms for those who completed only the sleep hygiene session. The participants also showed moderate improvement in objectively assessed sleep efficiency after treatment compared with the sleep hygiene participants.

Both groups reduced their drinks per week and alcohol-related consequences after treatment. However, CBT participants reported greater improvements in insomnia, which in turn were associated with reductions in alcohol-related problems, according to the study.

“The results of this study indicate that insomnia treatment may improve alcohol-related problems, and therefore, may be an ideal first step toward treatment among binge-drinking young adults with insomnia,” Miller said in a press release.

Miller added that the data collected in the study demand a larger sample size looking at alcohol-related problems as a primary outcome. Further, she plans to determine whether insomnia treatment improves executive function and the ability to regulate emotions, which she said may decrease the risk for alcohol-related problems.


Cognitive behavioral therapy reduces insomnia symptoms among young drinkers. University of Missouri School of Medicine. Published October 19, 2020. Accessed November 10, 2020.

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