A novel study has identified that childhood sleep problems can produce a domino effect of sleepiness and spiral into young adult drug and alcohol abuse.

Maria M. Wong, associate professor in the department of psychology at Idaho State University, and a team of researchers are to publish their findings in the June print edition of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER), while the study will be available on April 5 online under Early View.

The researchers identified one in ten young children have some sort of sleep problem. Tim Roehrs, director of research at the Sleep Disorders and Research Center at the Henry Ford Hospital, explained, "Sleep and sleepiness problems are important issues in childhood and adolescence."

Wong said, "the prevalence of problem sleepiness among adolescents and young adults, ages 12 to 25 years, is not only high but also increasing. Some serious consequences include increased risk of unintentional injuries or death, such as car accidents, low academic performance, negative moods, and increased use of alcohol and drugs."

To date the data has revealed sleepiness and sleeplessness contributes to academic, social and now substance problems.

Wong's research is the culmination of previous studies of children at younger ages to show the association between childhood sleep problems and the early onset of substance use in adolescence. "In those studies, overtiredness and having trouble sleeping predicted onset of alcohol, cigarette, and illicit drug use among boys and onset of alcohol use only among girls," she said. "Most of our participants are young adults right now. So we wanted to test for the association between sleep problems and substance problems now that they are older."

"We found that 'having trouble sleeping' in early childhood, ages three to five, predicted a higher probability of 'having trouble sleeping' in adolescence, ages 11 to 17, which in turn predicted the presence of drug-related problems in young adulthood ages 18 to 21," continued Wong.

"Overtiredness in early childhood predicted lower response inhibition - that is, having problems inhibiting impulses and behavior - in adolescence, which predicted higher numbers of illicit drugs used. Overtiredness in childhood also directly predicted the presence of binge drinking, blackouts, driving after drinking alcohol, and the number of lifetime alcohol problems in young adulthood."

"The bottom line is, sleep is important," concluded Roehrs.

Wong thinks the best course of action is to raise awareness, make sure substance intervention programs incorporate the connection between sleep, self-control and for addictions and health professionals to begin using treatments and therapies to help young children and parents at the onset of sleep problems.

To access the Early View on April 5, visit: http://www.wiley.com/bw/journal.asp?ref=0145-6008

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