Sleep difficulties and insufficient sleep in youths could make them more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol.

A recent study found duration of sleep and sleep difficulties could predict a number of problems including binge drinking, driving under the influence, and risky sexual behavior, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research reported.

"This paper is important in that it advances our understanding of the relation of sleep to substance use problems to include not only problems sleeping, that is, trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep, but also insufficient sleep, addressed here as hours of sleep," said Tim Roehrs, director of research at the Sleep Disorders and Research Center at the Henry Ford Hospital, and one of the first researchers to identify sleep insufficiency as a clinical issue in the 1990s.

In adults, sleep problems have been linked to an increased rate of alcohol and illicit drug use. Adult alcoholics who had insomnia were also observed to be more likely to relapse.

"Overtiredness in childhood has also directly predicted the presence of binge drinking, blackouts, driving after drinking alcohol, and a number of lifetime alcohol problems in young adulthood. The purpose of this study was to examine whether sleep difficulties and hours of sleep prospectively predicted several serious substance-related problems that included binge drinking, driving under the influence of alcohol, and risky sexual behavior," said Maria M. Wong, professor and director of experimental training in the department of psychology at Idaho State University. 

Past studies on adolescents were mostly taken from high-risk samples; the new study added to these findings by looking at the relationship between sleep variables such as difficulty and hours of sleep and the odds of serious substance abuse problems.

"Parents need to understand their children's sleep schedule, patterns and habits," Wong warned. "If children have sleep difficulties or poor sleep hygiene, it is important for parents to talk to them and find out the factors that may be causing the problems. Parents could explain the importance of sleep to their children, for example, how sleep may affect the development of the brain and thus self-control and behavior. Parents could also help their children keep a regular sleep schedule and monitor/control their children's activities before sleep, for example, no video games or texting after a certain time at night."