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Cognitive Effects of Alcohol Use and Sleep Disruption in College Students

Taylor English, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Alcohol use and sleep disruption are highly prevalent amongst college students, yet their combined effects on cognitive functioning and subsequent classroom performance have not been fully examined. Alcohol use has been shown to negatively impact cognitive functioning, especially in college students without fully matured brain regions. This has led to decreases in academic functioning and increases in college dropout. Disruptions in sleep functioning can lead to both lapses in attention and an overall decrease in attention, which can negatively impact learning in a classroom environment. Participants were 96 undergraduate students who were invited to participate based on responses from a screening measure regarding drinking behaviors. Participants were selected to binge drinker/non-binge drinker and sleep problem/no sleep problem groups based on their responses to administered measures. Participants also completed a ~30-minute cognitive assessment via an iPad evaluating multiple cognitive domains (e.g., attention, memory), as well as complete a 7-day diary of sleeping and alcohol use behaviors prior to their assessment. One-way and univariate ANOVAs were conducted to determine main and interactive cognitive differences between the alcohol use and sleep problems groups, as well as Multilevel Modeling to evaluate daily patterns and predictors of sleeping and alcohol use behaviors. Results indicated non-significant main effects for subtests in both the binge drinking and sleep problems groups, and there were also non-significant interactive effects between the conditions. Per self-report, results also exhibited that participants tended to drink more alcoholic drinks, go to bed later, and get less sleep towards the weekends. Although the current study was unable to identify the synergistic effects of alcohol use and sleep problems on cognitive performance, it was able to detect independent effects and illuminate the daily relationship between alcohol use and sleep behaviors in college students. Several limitations were identified, and further research with larger sample sizes may be needed to clarify the complex relationship between alcohol use, sleep problems, and cognitive performance.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

English, Taylor, "Cognitive Effects of Alcohol Use and Sleep Disruption in College Students" (2021). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI28864839.