This is the first study to report a long-term relationship between regular sleep, behavioral control, and resilience in children of alcoholics (COAs). We defined resilience as positive adaption in adversity.
COAs are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder and substance-related problems compared with non-COAs. They are also more likely to report depressive symptoms, had lower relationship satisfaction and are less likely to be academically successful, which could affect their job satisfaction. COAs were considered resilient if they did not have alcohol and other drug problems, report lower depressive symptoms and higher relationship and job satisfaction.
We collected data at multiple times across a period of over 20 years from both COAs and a group of participants with similar characteristics but who did not have a parent who was abusive or dependent on alcohol (control group). Data were collected every 3 years beginning when participants were 3-5 years old. Between the ages of 11-17 years old, substance use data were collected annually.
We collected data on children sleep regularity, difficulties, and tiredness when they were 3-5 years old, self-control at 9-14 years old, as well as substance use, job and relationship satisfaction at 21-26 years old. Seven hundred and fifteen children participated in this study. Sleep data were collected by maternal ratings. Self-control was rated by trained study interviewers, who had a bachelor or a graduate degree in Psychology or related fields. Substance use, job and relationship satisfaction were collected by self-report.
Higher childhood sleep rhythmicity (i.e., going to bed and waking up at about the same time, absence of trouble sleeping and absence of being tired for no reasons) predicted higher adolescent self-control, which predicted a lower likelihood of having an alcohol use disorder and substance use problems (e.g., driving under the influence of alcohol, lost a job due to drinking or drug use). Moreover, higher sleep rhythmicity also predicted lower depressive symptoms, as well as higher job and relationship satisfaction. We found these relationships in both COAs and controls. Good sleep and higher self-regulation act as resource factors for young adults, regardless of parent alcoholism status.
Data from the National Sleep Foundation show that almost 45% of school-aged children in the U.S. did not get enough sleep. If sleep and behavioral control are indeed related to favorable outcomes in young adults, prevention and intervention programs on substance abuse should consider the role of sleep and self-regulation in the development of substance abuse. Information regarding the importance of having enough sleep and the potentially serious consequences of sleep problems on self-control could be shared with adolescents and young adults. Skills regarding how to maintain good sleep hygiene (e.g., regular bedtime and wake time) and self-control could also be taught. Sleep intervention trials among adolescents, including those who abused substances have shown promising results
These findings are described in the article Sleep and Behavioral Control in Earlier Life Predicted Resilience in Young Adulthood: A Prospective Study of Children of Alcoholics and Controls, which is set to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors.
This study was conducted by Maria M. Wong from Idaho State University, Leon I. Puttler and Robert A. Zucker from the University of Michigan, and Joel T. Nigg from Oregon Health and Science University. Data collection was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R37 AA07065 awarded to RAZ).