Alcohol Use and Sleep Disorders in Teens

A new study from the Netherlands found that many adolescents suffer from sleep problems, and some may start abusing alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate.

Psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia are linked to sleeping problems. Having difficulty sleeping for more than one week is considered primary insomnia, and more than 64 million Americans suffer from insomnia each year. Adults require an average of seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and teenagers require about an hour more.

Up to 14 percent of 11- to 17-year-olds don’t get enough sleep, which can lead to poor academic performance, psychological issues, and social and behavioral problems. Previous research has shown that sleep problems among adolescents can contribute to depression in young adulthood.

Sara Pieters, a neuropsychology doctoral student from the University of Nijmegan, surveyed 236 girls and 195 boys between the ages of 11 and 14 to examine the relationship between sleep problems and alcohol abuse. People with sleep problems often drink alcohol to try to fall asleep, but this can lead to alcohol abuse and dependency, and actually disrupts sleep as alcohol interferes with the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, causing a person to feel less rested upon waking.

Pieters and her colleagues found that teens who stayed up later and had sleep problems started drinking alcohol earlier in life. Teens who went through puberty earlier also tended to stay up later, have more sleep problems, and drink alcohol at an earlier age. This association was still present after adjusting for education level, gender, and psychological health.

This study suggests that there is an important link between sleep problems and alcohol abuse even in young adolescents, and the link appears to be associated with puberty. However, the authors note that the study couldn’t determine whether these young people drink because they can’t sleep, or can’t sleep because they drink.

Source: Psychcentral, Jessica Ward Jones, MD, MPH, Alcohol Use Linked to Sleep Problems in Young Teens, June 28, 2010