Background: To our knowledge, no prospective studies examine the relationships among childhood sleep problems, adolescent executive functioning, and substance outcomes (i.e., substance use and substance-related problems). In this study, we examined whether childhood sleep problems predicted adolescent sleep problems and response inhibition. We also tested whether adolescent sleep problems and poor response inhibition mediated the relationship between childhood sleep problems and substance (alcohol and drug) outcomes in young adulthood.
Methods: Study participants were 292 boys and 94 girls (M = 4.85, SD = 1.47) from a community sample of high-risk families and controls.
Results: When compared to their counterparts, those with trouble sleeping in childhood were twice as likely to have the same problem in adolescence. Childhood overtiredness predicted poor response inhibition in adolescence. Persistent trouble sleeping from childhood to adolescence and response inhibition in adolescence mediated the relationship between childhood sleep problems and drug outcomes in young adulthood, whereas overtiredness in childhood directly predicted alcohol use outcomes and alcohol-related problems in young adulthood.
Conclusions: This is the first study showing a long-term relationship between childhood sleep measures and subsequent alcohol and drug outcomes. The developmental and clinical implications of these findings were discussed. Prevention and intervention programs may want to consider the role of sleep problems and response inhibition on substance use and abuse.