Early sleep troubles, later drug problems?

Boys who have trouble sleeping between the ages of 3 and 5 may be at higher risk of drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and using drugs as young teenagers, new research suggests.

Kids who often struggled to fall asleep or were overtired were also more likely to show symptoms of anxiety or depression and have attention problems later in life.

Study author Dr. Maria Wong of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor cautioned that many children have sleeping problems, and not all parents of such kids need to worry about the adolescent years.

“Not all children who have sleeping problems have early use of alcohol and drugs,” she told Reuters Health.

This is not the first study to link sleeping patterns to alcohol use. For instance, previous research has shown that adults with insomnia are more than twice as likely to become alcoholics later in life. Furthermore, alcoholics who get treatment are more likely to relapse if they also have insomnia, according to recent reports.

For the current study, Wong and her colleagues interviewed the mothers of 257 boys between the ages of 3 and 5 about their sleep habits. The researchers then checked in with families at three-year intervals until children were between 12 and 14.

Once children got older, the researchers asked them how old they were when they first tried alcohol or got drunk, and whether they had ever tried drugs or cigarettes.

Nearly two-thirds of the boys included in the study had at least one alcoholic parent, putting them at risk of becoming alcoholics themselves.

Around one-third of the boys included in the study either had trouble sleeping or were overtired as children. Those who showed early sleeping problems were more than twice as likely to try alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and other drugs by the time they were between 12 and 14 years old.

Kids who had sleep problems were also more likely to show later attention problems and symptoms of anxiety and depression, which in turn increased the risk that kids would try alcohol, cigarettes or drugs as young teens.

However, as reported in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, when the researchers used mathematical models to remove the influence of anxiety, depression and attention problems, they found that early sleep problems still increased the risk of alcohol and drug use later in life.

In an interview, Wong explained that the reasons why early sleep may lead to later substance abuse remain unclear. That said, she suggested that early sleep problems may cause “physical distress” in kids as they cope with the strain of being tired, and they may turn to alcohol and drugs to relieve that discomfort.

Alternatively, she noted that kids with early sleep problems who turn to alcohol or drugs as teens may have underlying brain differences that lead to both of those behaviors.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, April 2004.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Amalia K. Gagarina, M.S., R.D.