A significant percentage of children have problems with sleep. In fact, many children and teens struggle with chronic insomnia, very similar to adult insomnia. New research lead by Maria M. Wong of Idaho State University is showing a connection between sleep difficulties in childhood and problems with drug and alcohol use in early adulthood.
In addition to a greater risk for substance abuse, sleep problems can lead to other serious challenges and problems. These include things such as poor school performance, depressive symptoms, social difficulties, and greater risk for getting injured or hurt in motor vehicle accidents or other types of accidents.
The research was conducted on 386 adolescents, nearly 75% of which were male. The researchers were following up on previous studies they had done that had looked at the connection between sleep difficulties in children and substance use in early teens. They collected data from 6 periods covering 3 years each – ranging from ages 3 to 5 up to 18 to 20. They also looked at the data for 7 individual years for the ages of 11 to 17.
They discovered that children who had difficulties with sleep between the ages of 3 to 5 were more likely to have sleep problems between the ages of 11 to 17. Also, this group was more likely to have problems related to substance use in early adulthood – between the ages of 18 to 21. The connection had to do with decreased impulse control as teens if they struggled with being overtired as young children. Those impulses often manifested in the use of street drugs.
They also noticed a direct correlation between sleep problems in childhood with several alcohol-related problems, including drinking and driving, having blackouts, and binge drinking.
One important factor for which this research did not provide answers is why there is a relationship between problems with sleep as a child and difficulties with impulse control as a teen. However, the study did indicate the possibility that future problems with substance use might be something that could be detected in childhood.
This study clearly emphasized how crucial sleep is, especially in developmental years. The researchers indicated a need for raising people’s awareness of the future impact of sleep problems in childhood. If medical professionals begin to better understand the serious long-term consequences of sleep difficulties in kids, they may be more inclined to treat childhood sleep disturbances. Also, programs designed to help prevent or reduce substance abuse should take into consideration this link between substance abuse risk and problems with impulse control and sleep.