Childhood Sleep Problems May Spell Trouble Later

Parents of newborns often have anxiety about teaching their new baby to sleep. With every well-meaning friend offering a different strategy and companion book for getting a baby to sleep through the night and take naps on a schedule, they may wonder, “is it really that big of a deal?”

New research confirms that it could be a very big deal. A recent study has established links between good sleep habits in children and good choices later in life. A combined effort between the Department of Psychology at Idaho State University, the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, and Oregon Health and Science University, the study was led by Maria M. Wong of Idaho State University.

The researchers examined childhood sleep problems, and the association with response inhibition and alcohol and drug choices made during adolescence and young adulthood. The study focused on analyzing childhood sleep problems to see whether adolescent sleep problems and poor response inhibition had any relation to the same outcomes in adulthood.

The study participants were largely male, with 292 boys recruited and 94 girls. The children were recruited from a community sample of high-risk families and control families.

The researchers found that when compared with those who did not have sleep problems in childhood, the participants who had trouble sleeping in childhood were twice as likely to have the same problems in adolescence. In addition, those participants who had a history of being overtired in childhood were more likely to exhibit poor response inhibition in adolescence.

A pattern of sleep problems that continued from childhood into adolescence and response inhibition in adolescence mediated the association between childhood sleep problems and drug issues as the participants entered young adulthood. Childhood overtiredness directly predicted alcohol-related problems in young adulthood.

The findings of this study are important, because they record the first study showing the long-term effects of childhood sleep problems on drug and alcohol problems occurring several years later.

The results of the study may be helpful for educators and policymakers who may be able to target adolescents based on reports of poor sleep for additional education about the risks of alcohol and drug use. Sleep problems may be a reliable indicator that parents need to be on the alert for risk of drug and alcohol use.

Parents of children who have difficulty settling down to sleep may find it easier to address sleep issues at an early age rather than dealing with possible risks of drug and alcohol use later. As more information is gathered, it may become increasingly important to study up on how to educate your new baby on the skills of sleeping well.

There is still hope.

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