Sleep problems in early childhood may predict substance use during adolescence

Wong said the findings in this study are similar to those observed in adult studies.

Tim Roehrs, director of research at the Sleep Disorders Center of Henry Ford Hospital, concurs. "In adults, prospective survey data do indicate that sleep problems are predictive of later alcohol-use problems while controlling for depression and anxiety disorders," he said. "Some of my own laboratory studies that have assessed sleep and alcohol drinking, for example, show that disturbed sleep is associated with the self-administration of alcohol before sleep, that tolerance develops within six nights, and then larger alcohol doses are self-administered."

Roehrs added that, although sleep experts will likely not be surprised by these findings, general pediatric health professionals may be, "particularly that attention and anxiety-depression problems are not the mediators of this association."

Since onset of substance use during this early adolescent period is known to be predictive of more subsequent alcohol and drug problems as well as greater probability of later alcohol-use disorders, the sleep-problem 'marker' has potential utility as a very early indicator of the risk of developing alcohol problems.

"Not all children who had sleep problems in early childhood developed an early onset of alcohol and other drugs," said Wong. "However, about half of the children who had sleep problems began using substances at an early age, such as 14 years. It seems clear that children's and adolescents' sleep problems may potentially be a risk marker for later substance-use problems. Parents should pay attention to their children's complaints about insomnia and overtiredness. If necessary, they should discuss those problems with pediatricians and other health care professionals. They may also want to pay attention to their children's sleep hygiene, that is, ensuring a regular sleep schedule, adequate amounts of sleep, and encoura


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