Are toddlers who can't sleep at higher risk of becoming teens who smoke, drink or do drugs?

ANN ARBOR, MI -- A long-term study has found a significant connection between sleep problems in children's toddler years and the chance that they'll use alcohol, cigarettes and drugs early in their teen years. Young teens whose preschool sleep habits were poor were more than twice as likely to use drugs, tobacco or alcohol.

The surprising finding, made by a University of Michigan Health System team as part of a family health study that followed 257 boys and their parents for 10 years, held true even after other issues such as depression, aggression, attention problems and parental alcoholism were taken into account. Long-term data on girls are not yet available.

Based on their result, the researchers suggest that early sleep problems may be useful as a "marker" for predicting later risk of early adolescent substance use -- and that there may be a common biological factor underlying both traits. The relationship between sleep problems and the use and abuse of alcohol in adults is well known, but this is the first study to look at the issue in children.

They also emphasize that parents should take the finding only as one more reason to focus on healthy sleep habits for their children -- not as a reason to worry.

The findings will be published in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research by a team from the U-M Addiction Research Center (UMARC), in the Department of Psychiatry, and a colleague from Michigan State University.

The data come from an ongoing longitudinal project that uses interviews and standardized research questionnaires to look at mental and physical health issues in families over the long term. The study was recently extended for another 10 years, with further funding from the National Institutes of Health in the form of a MERIT Award.

"What's so interesting about this finding is that the effect exists regardless of a number of other factors that previously had bee

Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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