Abstract: Background: No prospective studies exist on the relationship between sleep problems early in life and subsequent alcohol use. Stimulated by the adult literature linking sleep problems to the subsequent onset of alcohol use disorders in some adults, we examined whether sleep problems in early childhood predicted the onset of alcohol and other drug use in adolescence and whether such a relationship was mediated by other known predictors of this relationship, namely, attention problems, anxiety/depression, and aggression in late childhood.
Methods: This study is part of an ongoing longitudinal study of the development of risk for alcohol and other substance use disorders. Study participants were 257 boys from a community-recruited sample of high-risk families.
Results: Mothers’ ratings of their children's sleep problems at ages 3 to 5 years significantly predicted an early onset of any use of alcohol, marijuana, and illicit drugs, as well as an early onset of occasional or regular use of cigarettes by age 12 to 14. Additionally, although sleep problems in early childhood also predicted attention problems and anxiety/depression in later childhood, these problems did not mediate the relationship between sleep problems and onset of alcohol and other drug use.
Conclusions: This is, to our knowledge, the first study that prospectively examines the relationship between sleep problems and early onset of alcohol use, a marker of increased risk for later alcohol problems and alcohol use disorders. Moreover, early childhood sleep problems seem to be a robust marker for use of drugs other than alcohol. Implications for the prevention of early alcohol and other drug use are discussed.