Using Sleep Interventions to Engage and Treat Heavy-Drinking College Students: A Randomized Pilot Study

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2017 Apr;41(4):798-809. doi: 10.1111/acer.13342. Epub 2017 Feb 16.


Background: Continued high alcohol consumption levels by college students highlight the need for more effective alcohol interventions and novel treatment engagement strategies. The purpose of this study was to investigate a behavioral sleep intervention as a means to engage heavy-drinking college students in treatment and reduce alcohol use and alcohol-related consequences.

Methods: Heavy-drinking college students (N = 42) were assigned to 1 of 2 web-based interventions comprised of 4 modules delivered over 4 weeks. The experimental intervention focused primarily on sleep and included evidence-based sleep content (i.e., stimulus control instructions, sleep scheduling [consistent bed/rise times; ideal sleep duration for adolescents/young adults], sleep hygiene advice, relaxation training, cognitive strategies to target sleep-disruptive beliefs), and alcohol content (i.e., normative and blood alcohol level feedback, moderate drinking guidelines, controlled drinking strategies, effects of alcohol on sleep and the body, advice to moderate drinking for improved sleep) in young adults. The control condition Healthy Behaviors provided basic advice about nutrition, exercise, sleep (i.e., good sleep hygiene only), and drinking (i.e., effects of alcohol on the body, moderate drinking guidelines, advice to moderate drinking for sleep). Participants in both conditions monitored their sleep using daily web-based diaries and a wrist-worn sleep tracker.

Results: Recruitment ads targeting college students with sleep concerns effectively identified heavy-drinking students. The program generated a high number of inquiries and treatment completion rates were high. Both interventions significantly reduced typical week drinking and alcohol-related consequences and improved sleep quality and sleep-related impairment ratings. The control condition yielded greater reductions in total drinks in a heaviest drinking week. The effects on drinking were larger than those observed in typical brief alcohol intervention studies for college students. Greater sleep improvement tended to predict better subsequent drinking outcomes.

Conclusions: The results suggest that sleep treatment may be a promising strategy for targeting and treating heavy-drinking college students.

Keywords: Alcohol; College Students; Heavy Drinking; Sleep; Young Adults.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking in College / psychology*
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Early Medical Intervention / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / psychology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Universities
  • Young Adult