Previous research has linked insomnia with the subsequent onset of alcohol abuse, nicotine dependence, and drug abuse/dependence in some adults. A study in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research is the first longitudinal study to examine and find an association between sleep problems during early childhood and substance abuse during adolescence.
"Early childhood sleep problems appear to be a robust risk marker for substance use in adolescence," said Maria M. Wong, research assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan and first author of the study. "However, while sleep problems in early childhood also predicted attention problems and anxiety/depression in later childhood, these problems did not mediate the sleep-drug onset relationship."
Wong and her colleagues examined 257 boys drawn from a community sample of high-risk families (as part of an ongoing longitudinal study of the development of risk for alcohol and other substance-use disorders). All families were Caucasian. Early childhood (3 to 5 years of age) sleep problems were rated by the boys' mothers; late childhood (9 to 11 years of age) attention problems, anxiety/depression, and aggression were also rated by the boys' mothers; and early adolescent (12 to 14 years of age) substance use was assessed through self-report questionnaires.
Researchers found that the mothers' ratings of their children's sleep problems at ages three to five years could significantly predict the onset of any use of alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and illicit drugs at 12 to 14 years of age.