Sleep problems in early childhood associated with drug use

Sep 13 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

It’s not a secret that BlueEyes is not the best sleeping infant in the world. This week he has woken up about every 2-3 hours and that has its toll on how rested I feel. It seems like he is able to sleep well (which in my dictionary is now a stretch of about 5-6 hours and then I’ll nurse him back to sleep for another couple of hours of sleep), but that this is disrupted by all these things like teething, cramps, having had an exciting day, etc etc.

So far, I had not bought a single book about baby sleep, because I felt that if I was just relaxed about it, it would turn out okay and get progressively better. But last week I caved and I got a book. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I got ‘Nighttime parenting’ by Sears, which is probably not going to learn me anything new, because it mostly advocates co-sleeping which we already do, but I figured I’d start out easy. However, not only did I get a book, I also started reading on pubmed. I actually read about something kind of related for a project, but came across all these papers that talk about the fact that sleep problems in early childhood are associated with subsequent behavioral problems and drug use. These authors find that early childhood sleep problems are a robust marker for substance use in adolescence.

So does this mean that BlueEyes is on his way to become an addict? I think we all understand that it is not that simple. First, these studies have a couple limitations that the authors themselves also discuss. An important one is that they assess sleep problems only through interviews with the mothers. And from talking to other mothers I know that there is a wide variety in acceptance when it comes to poor sleep. If you ask me, BlueEyes still falls well within what I would consider ‘normal baby sleep’. Fine, he wakes up a couple of times but I still feel like it’s acceptable for us as a family. I know other moms however, that have decided to start more rigorous sleep training because they felt their babies were sleeping poorly (while they actually slept better than BlueEyes if you look at how many times they woke up). So what does it tell you when a mother says her child is a poor sleeper? Does that perhaps say more about the tolerability level of the mother rather than the actual sleep quality of the child? Or about the way the parents deal with their child’s sleeping behavior?

Another potential confound here is that all these children are from families that are at high-risk for alcoholism and families that lived in the same neighborhoods. We know that there is a hereditary component to drug addiction, and we also know that it is unsafe to co-sleep when you are under influence of alcohol or drugs. It remains to be determined whether these results extend to all children with sleeping problems.

The bottom line: there seem to be early indicators of alcohol and drug use during adolescence and adulthood. Also, don’t search things on pubmed that are related to yourself or your children.

This blog post was brought to you by MOAR COFFEE.


Wong MM, et al. Sleep problems in early childhood and early onset of alcohol and other drug use in adolescence. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004

Wong MM, et al. Childhood sleep problems, response inhibition, and alcohol and drug outcomes in adolescence and young adulthood. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2010

17 responses so far

  • Dr24hours says:

    That's a great big confound right there. If you don't fit that population, I'd basically toss the results out the window.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Yes it's a big confound, but within that population there's still the association between sleep problems/overtiredness and alcohol and drug use, which I think is quite interesting. It would be interesting to see what the link is between the two: is a brain that is vulnerable to becoming addicted also bad at sleeping or does little sleep/being tired later on lead to the use of drugs as self-medication?

      • Isabel says:

        First alcohol is not a separate category from drugs, and second, for a discussion of scientific research isn't the term "drugs" a little vague?

        " with subsequent behavioral problems and drug use"

        use, or addiction?

        I don't know a single adult who doesn't use drugs of some kind, so drug use is pretty normal behavior. I'd have to read the papers but are they really talking about abuse and addiction? and of which drugs besides alcohol? Hard drugs? Caffeine?

        • babyattachmode says:

          So I looked at it in more detail and they show that in this cohort of high risk families, children with sleep problems were more likely to smoke cigarettes, to have used marijuana and to have used illicit drugs. They are not talking about addiction, because that is much harder to define than just looking at what people use. But in this study, it is clear that sleep problems are associated with a higher incidence of use of all of those substances.

      • Dr24hours says:

        My addicted brain has never had any problems with sleeping. I wake up a lot during the night, but I fall back asleep immediately. Anecdotally, in the recovering community, sleep problems are common.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    How can you be a scientist when every result that is not a perfect, Exp Design 101 approach is "tossed out the window"?

    The very essence of a scientist is to be able to hold the results in mind *with* the caveats an to gradually synthesize a probability Gestalt based on likely levels of support.

    Trite dismissals hinder that process.

    • Dr24hours says:

      Overgeneralization is a huge problem with how people understand science. Scientific studies are applicable to the populations they study, and it is often difficult to know how they generalize. In studies where the cohort was at high risk for a condition, and a subset with an attribute showed even higher risk, generalizing that attribute outside the original cohort is often specious.

      As for "how can I be a scientist" while applying rigor to results? That's an absurd challenge on its face. I argue that the sloppy, soft-minded description of the 'very essence of a scientist' you present is both false, and awful.

  • Isabel says:

    >influence of alcohol or drugs

    alcohol IS a drug

    >alcohol and drug use

    alcohol use IS drug use

    >This blog post was brought to you by MOAR COFFE

    drug user!

    • I totally agree that alcohol IS a drug, but in this paper the authors differentiated between alcohol and illicit drugs of abuse. And since illicit drugs of abuse is kind of long to write every time, I used the word drugs instead.
      Also, I never said I wasn't a drug user.

      • Isabel says:

        Illicit drugs of abuse is equally vague. Which drugs?

        • babyattachmode says:

          I don't think the term illicit drugs is vague. It is used for all non-prescription drugs such as cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, etc.

          • Isabel says:

            You don't think a term that can refer to cannabis, PCP, meth or heroin is vague? Not to mention that prescription drugs are eclipsing "illicit" drugs as drugs of abuse by young people, I think the term is worse than meaningless.

  • becca says:

    As the fine folks at grumpy rumblings have informed me, there's also some data that gifted kids tend to not sleep as much.
    Maybe you're looking up the wrong research on infant sleep 😉

    • babyattachmode says:

      Oh that's good to know ;-). I actually came across this paper looking for something not really related. And I'm still just thinking that this is normal baby sleep and that it will get better soon. (or that BlueEyes will be old enough to watch cartoons while I sleep in, whichever comes first).

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    Despite the therapeutic effectiveness and proven success of CBT, treatment availability is significantly limited by a lack of trained clinicians, poor geographical distribution of knowledgeable professionals, and expense.One way to potentially overcome these barriers is to use the Internet to deliver treatment, making this effective intervention more accessible and less costly. The Internet has already become a critical source of health-care and medical information.Although the vast majority of health websites provide general information,there is growing research literature on the development and evaluation of Internet interventions.

  • eunshiru says:

    WEW!.... Why people here are all talking about substances associated with sleep disorders of their babies?. Yeah maybe on some circumstances but for me I'm a mother also, I'm just practicing the routines that I taught to my baby. If you don't want your baby to woke up in the middle of the night. Make her/him sleep in the morning and let her/him play in the afternoon so that after dinner he/she will be too exhausted and will have a very quite and straight night sleep. Try to read some tips on this site. I'm sure it can help you all! 😀

  • Younglee says:

    I hope parents who have children with sleep issues don't start worrying when they read about a study like this. It's evidence seems pretty flaky

    Sleep issues seem to be very up and down in our household I've wrote a short post about recent problems here