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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Brown: Impulsive Personality Traits and Alcohol Use: Does Sleeping Help with Thinking?

Both impulsivity and poor sleep health have been associated with problematic alcohol use among young adults. However, the nature of the association between sleep and impulsivity and their combined impact on alcohol use is unclear; inadequate sleep may compound the negative effect of impulsivity on decision making, leading to greater alcohol use and related consequences among individuals who tend to act impulsively.

The purpose of this study, led by Dr. Mary Beth Miller, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, was to examine the associations between sleep, impulsivity, and alcohol use among young adults in college. Dr. Miller and her colleagues at Brown and Maryville University hypothesized that sleep health would moderate the association between impulsive personality traits and alcohol use, such that it would be strongest among those reporting inadequate sleep. Participants included 568 undergraduate students who had violated campus alcohol policy and had been mandated to alcohol treatment. Impulsivity was broken down into four personality traits: urgency, defined as a tendency to behave rashly as a result of negative affect; lack of premeditation, or a failure to consider the consequences of one’s actions; lack of perseverance, an inability to persist beyond boredom or fatigue in fulfilling obligations; and sensation-seeking, a preference for stimulating and exciting activities associated with underarousal.

On average, participants reported consuming over 12 standard drinks a week, while 88% reported at least one heavy drinking episode per month. Higher sensation-seeking, lower premeditation, and higher urgency predicted more drinks consumed per week, but sleep group (adequate or inadequate) did not. However, sleep adequacy was negatively correlated with alcohol-related consequences. Sleep group moderated the relationship with premediation and drinks per week, such that lower premediation was associated with greater drinks per week among those in the adequate but not the inadequate sleep group.

Interestingly, this finding was contrary to the study hypothesis, that impulsivity would be more predictive of drinking behaviors in those with inadequate but not adequate sleep. No other moderations between impulsive traits and sleep were found, which suggests that sensation-seeking and urgency are associated with greater alcohol involvement among young adults, regardless of sleep adequacy. Considering both sleep adequacy and impulsive personality traits are associated with drinking behaviors, both may be appropriate targets for interventions designed to decrease high-risk drinking among young adults.

This study was published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Volume 31, Issue 1, 2017.

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