From Selection Sunday to “One Shining Moment,” few sporting events bring as much excitement as March Madness, which starts March 21st. Over three weeks and 67 games in both the men’s and women’s tournaments, many people raise the stakes by filling out brackets, wagering in casinos and sportsbooks, and placing bets online. 

Given the chaos and unpredictability of March Madness, betting on the NCAA basketball tournament can be a risky proposition — not just for your finances but also your sleep.

In 2023, the number of Americans gambling on March Madness increased 50% over 2022 to 68 million, reaching the same level as the Super Bowl. The dramatic uptick has been driven largely by the legalization of online betting in more than 30 U.S. states.

Unfortunately, millions of people are affected by unhealthy gambling habits that negatively affect their lives. As many as 8 million Americans experience mild issues with gambling, and up to 2.5 million have severe gambling problems. 

An often-overlooked consequence of problem gambling is its impact on sleep. Research has found that when gambling starts to become compulsive or out of control, it can provoke a range of insomnia-like symptoms.

Drawing on data from over 3,400 participants in a nationwide survey, researchers at UCLA detected strong links between problem gambling and poor sleep. They found that people experiencing problem gambling were roughly two to three times more likely than those with no gambling problem to have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. The risk of poor sleep was highest in people with more severe problem gambling. 

These effects on sleep are believed to stem from emotional reactions to problem gambling, including anxiety, frustration, sadness, and guilt. Ruminating on past bets or upcoming wagers may heighten stress that prevents quality sleep.

Even worse, poor sleep can induce riskier gambling by impairing both impulse control and the ability to assess benefits and risks. Some people may turn to betting to cope with or escape from their sleep problems. In these ways, problem gambling and poor sleep can exacerbate one another.

Studies suggest that these issues may get worse with alcohol consumption, which is common among viewers of March Madness and other sporting events. Alcohol affects decision-making and throws off normal sleep patterns. 

Given the accessibility of online gambling and the number of NCAA tournament games to wager on, it is important to be mindful of signs of unhealthy gambling, including:

  • Constantly thinking about gambling
  • Feeling compelled to increase bet size and frequency
  • Chasing losses to try to win back money
  • Continuing to gamble even in the face of its negative effects

As March Madness heats up, practical steps can help prevent problem gambling. These include setting and respecting limits, not chasing losses or betting when stressed, avoiding alcohol, and getting help if gambling starts to get out of control.

At the same time, you can enhance your sleep hygiene by having a consistent nightly schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and eliminating caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening.  

With a healthy approach to sleep and responsible gambling, you can enjoy all the action during the NCAA tournaments without harming your sleep or overall wellness.

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8 Sources

  1. National Collegiate Athletics Association. (2024, March 13). 2024 March Madness: Men’s NCAA tournament schedule, dates., Retrieved March 13, 2024, from
  2. Brooks, K. J. (2023, March 15). Nearly 68 million Americans expected to wager on March Madness. CBS News., Retrieved March 13, 2024, from
  3. National Council on Problem Gaming. (n.d.). FAQs: What is problem gambling?, Retrieved March 13, 2024, from
  4. Parhami, I., Siani, A., Rosenthal, R. J., & Fong, T. W. (2013). Pathological gambling, problem gambling and sleep complaints: an analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey: Replication (NCS-R). Journal of gambling studies, 29(2), 241–253.
  5. Thorne, H. B., Rockloff, M. J., Ferguson, S. A., Vincent, G. E., & Browne, M. (2021). Gambling problems are associated with alcohol misuse and insomnia: Results from a representative national telephone survey. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(13), 6683.
  6. Birth, A. (2016, October 21). Beer and sports go hand-in-hand, almost always. PR Newswire., Retrieved March 14, 2024, from
  7. New York Office of Addiction Services and Supports. (n.d.)., Retrieved March 13, 2024, from
  8. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.(2022, May 12). Changing your sleep habits. MedlinePlus., Retrieved March 13, 2024, from

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