A new study has found that adolescents who had sleep difficulties and insufficient sleep can develop problems like binge drinking, driving under the influence of alcohol, and risky sexual behavior.
Maria M. Wong, professor and director of experimental training in the department of psychology at Idaho State University, said that national polls indicate that 27% of school-aged children and 45% of adolescents do not sleep enough. Other studies have shown that about one in 10 adolescents have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep almost every day, or every day, in the previous 12 months.
Wong said, among normal adults, sleep difficulties and insomnia have predicted onset of alcohol use one year later, and increased risk of any illicit drug use disorder and nicotine dependence 3.5 years later. Among adult alcoholics who received treatment for alcohol dependence, those with insomnia at baseline were more likely to relapse to alcohol use. The association between poor sleep and substance use has also been found in younger age groups.
Overtiredness in childhood has predicted lower response inhibition in adolescence, which in turn predicted number of illicit drugs used in young adulthood. It also directly predicted the presence of binge drinking, blackouts, driving after drinking alcohol, and number of lifetime alcohol problems in young adulthood. The purpose of this study was to examine whether sleep difficulties and hours of sleep prospectively predicted several serious substance-related problems.
Wong and her co-authors analysed data collected via interviews and questionnaires from 6,504 adolescents (52% girls, 48% boys) participating in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Data were collected for three waves - 1994-1995, 1996, and 2001-2002 - and study authors used sleep difficulties from a previous wave to predict substance-related problems at a subsequent wave, while controlling for substance-related problems at the previous wave.
"Sleep difficulties at the first wave significantly predicted alcohol-related interpersonal problems, binge drinking, gotten drunk or very high on alcohol, driving under the influence of alcohol, getting into a sexual situation one later regretted due to drinking, and ever using any illicit drugs and drugs-related problems at the second wave,"said Wong.
Substance-related problems such as binge drinking, driving under the influence of alcohol, and risky sexual behavior are more important than others due to their association with reckless driving, automobile accidents, physical injuries and even death, as well as risk for sexually transmitted disease and unplanned pregnancy.
Both Wong and Roehrs believe that parents can play a significant role regarding their adolescents' sleep habits.
The results are currently available at Early View, and are due to be published in the February 2015 online-only issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.