A new study has shown that during puberty, teens may suffer from sleeping disorders and thus resort to alcohol to get sleep - increasing susceptibility to alcohol abuse at an early age.
Alcohol's pharmacological properties disrupt the rapid eye movement (REM) and deeper, more restorative stages of sleep. Sleep problems also predict the onset of alcohol abuse in healthy adults and relapse in abstinent alcoholics.
"Pubertal timing has been found to predict adolescent alcohol use, with early maturing adolescents being more likely to drink. Adolescent alcohol use has also been linked to sleep problems, such as trouble falling asleep, maintaining sleep, and perceived tiredness. This study combines these two separate lines of research by examining the impact of pubertal maturation on the relation between sleep problems and alcohol use," explained Sara Pieters, a doctoral student in neuropsychology at the University Nijmegen and corresponding author for the study.
"This has been mainly shown for late adolescents and young adults, but not yet for young adolescents, [however,] adolescent developmental changes such as puberty onset and different circadian rhythms take place [during] early adolescence," added Carmen Van Der Zwaluw, a doctoral student in neuropsychology at the University Nijmegen.
For this study, questionnaire data from 431 adolescents (236 girls, 195 boys) aged 11 to 14 years of age were analysed for associations. The team found that puberty was related to sleep problems and more evening-type tendencies such as favouring later bedtimes, which in turn were positively related to early adolescent alcohol use. These findings appeared irrespective of underlying psychopathology, gender, and educational level.
"Our advice to clinicians would be to better screen for sleep problems when adolescents seem to have other psychosocial or behavioral problems. To parents it is recommended that they monitor their offspring's sleep, keeping in mind that sleep has an effect on so many other health domains, including risky behaviors such as alcohol consumption," said Pieters.
Results will be published in the September 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.