Use of alcohol as a sleep aid, unhealthy drinking behaviors, and sleeping pill use among women veterans

Published:August 12, 2019DOI:



      Sleep complaints, such as insomnia and sleep disturbances caused by posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are more common among women veterans than nonveteran women. Alcohol use among some women may be partially motivated by the desire to improve sleep. This study evaluated rates of alcohol use as a sleep aid among women veterans and explored the relationship between alcohol use to aid sleep and drinking frequency and sleeping pill use.

      Design and setting

      National cross-sectional population-based residential mail survey on sleep and other symptoms.


      Random sample of women veteran VA users who completed a postal survey (N = 1533).




      The survey included demographics, Insomnia Severity Index, Primary Care PTSD screen, and items on alcohol use frequency (days/week), use of prescription or over-the-counter sleep medications, and use of alcohol as a sleep aid (yes/no for each item) over the past month.


      A total of 14.3% of respondents endorsed using alcohol to aid sleep. Logistic regression models showed more severe insomnia (odds ratio [OR] = 1.03; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.01-1.06) and PTSD (OR = 2.11; 95% CI: 1.49-2.97) were associated with increased odds of using alcohol to aid sleep. Alcohol use to aid sleep was associated with increased odds of daily drinking (OR = 8.46; 95% CI: 4.00-17.87) and prescription (OR = 1.79; 95% CI: 1.34-2.38) and over-the-counter sleep aid use (OR = 1.54; 95% CI: 1.12-2.11).


      Insomnia and PTSD may increase risk for using alcohol as a sleep aid, which may increase risk for unhealthy drinking and for mixing alcohol with sleep medications. Findings highlight the need for alcohol use screening in the context of insomnia and for delivery of cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia to women veterans with insomnia.


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