Sleep May Keep Kids Off Drugs

Helping your young person get a good night’s sleep could also help them avoid drinking alcohol or smoking pot as they enter the years when schools are full of temptation to indulge.

That conclusion came from a multi-year study in which researchers looked at data on low-income boys from western Pennsylvania. Their mothers answered questions on a wide variety of questions, including their sleep habits. When the boys were 20, the team asked them directly about their history with alcohol and pot.

As it turned out, less sleep or poor sleep as a child correlated with trying alcohol and pot sooner and using it repeatedly. To be specific, for every hour less a boy slept at age 11, on average, he would smoke pot or drink alcohol 20 percent sooner.

The researchers also examined other possible causes for earlier drug use to make sure sleep was truly significant. But “after considering other possible influences, we were able to determine that sleep problems are preceding the substance use problems,” said lead author Brant Hasler, Ph.D., of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Addressing sleep may now be something we can add into the package of our substance abuse prevention and treatment efforts.”

Keeping your kids away from pot isn’t a minor matter. About one in 11 pot smokers become addicted. The evidence is that kids who start using pot before the age of 15 are less likely to graduate from high school. Kids who spoke pot weekly are more than twice as likely to be anxious or depressed. Especially around puberty, some children who are vulnerable to psychosis are pushed over the edge by cannabis. Smoking pot weekly tends to lead to cigarette smoking, and pot smokers do move on to other drugs, though it’s not clear you can blame the pot.

So how can you help your preteens get a good full night’s sleep?

Don’t let them play video games or play with any electronic devices right before bed—aim for at least an hour of activities like conversation, music, a bath or reading on paper before bed. A comforting bedtime routine will prime your child for sleep. Making sure that the young person in your life is in an environment where they feel safe is another great way to help them get better sleep. If a young person is worried with adult-stresses such as money or other family issues, it can lead to their brain feeling worried and overwhelmed. Studies have found that the adolescent brain just isn’t ready for these kinds of issues yet. So as best as you can, let your young person know that they are in a safe and loving environment, it will do them a lot of good in the long run.