College Athletes with Sleep Disturbance More Likely to Use Substances

Young man jumping hurdles

If you’re not getting good sleep, it can make it harder to deal with your daily life. You may experience daytime sleepiness, depression, cravings, and more effects. Although professional care can help overcome these effects, many people don’t seek it out. Instead, they may try to get by through self-treatment, which may mean over-the-counter snoring treatments, or it may take the form of various types of substance use.

Substance use can mean many things, from legal substances like caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco to illegal drugs. And, according to a new study, all types of substance use are strongly linked with sleep disturbance.

A Wide Range of Substance Abuse

For this study, researchers drew on a survey of over 8600 student athletes at US colleges and universities. Among the items on the survey were some focused on sleep disturbance during the previous 12 months and the use of certain substances during the previous 30 days.

They found that the athletes who had serious sleep disturbances were more likely to use virtually all substances in the survey. The increased risk was:

  • 151% for cigarettes
  • 36% for alcohol
  • 66% for smoking marijuana
  • 317% for methamphetamine use
  • 349% for cocaine use
  • 175% for steroid use

Researchers were surprised at the strength of the connection, and that it was so universal. They had expected some level of connection between sleep disturbance and substance use, but didn’t know that it would extend across legal, controlled, and illegal substances.

Address Sleep Disturbances Early

Researchers note that these results can be vital for people who work with student athletes. Coaches, counselors, tutors, and parents need to understand that sleep disturbance–which is common among student athletes–can have serious, potentially deadly consequences.

Taking sleep disturbance seriously and trying to get appropriate treatment early may have a preventive effect that can help students avoid becoming dependent on substance use, since dependence even on legal substances can have serious health consequences.

People also need to understand that even young, fit athletes can be at risk for sleep disorders like sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is often related to being overweight, but not always. Watching for sleep apnea symptoms can help identify it early.

And these results probably aren’t restricted to student athletes, either. No matter your phase of life, if you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re more likely to lean on the help of substances, which may be caffeine or it may be alcohol or it may be illegal drugs. If you are finding you are having more trouble making it through the day without afternoon coffees or energy drinks, it’s time to talk to someone about your sleep.

For help in Detroit, please call (248) 825-8277 today for an appointment with sleep dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness.