July 20, 2007 / 9:23 PM / 12 years ago

Sleep pattern linked with teen's behavior

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - New study findings suggest that a preference for nighttime over daytime activities may be associated with antisocial behavior in adolescences, even in children as young as 8 years old.

Those who prefer later bedtimes appear to exhibit more antisocial behavior than those who like to wake early and participate in daytime recreational activities, researchers report.

“A preference for evening activities and staying up late is related to problem behavior and is evident even in preteens,” study co-author Dr. Elizabeth J. Susman, of Pennsylvania State University, told Reuters Health.

Staying up late “contributes to lack of sleep and this, in turn, causes problems such as lack of control and attention regulation, which are associated with antisocial behavior and substance use,” Susman added in a university statement.

Susman and her team investigated the relationship between a preference for morning versus evening activities and antisocial behavior in 111 subjects between 8 to 13 years old. They also correlated morning to afternoon cortisol levels with behavior and noted the age at which the subjects reached puberty.

The researchers found a number of factors were related to antisocial behaviors in the study group, particularly in the boys who tended to exhibit more rule-breaking behaviors than did their peers. The findings are published in the Developmental Psychology journal.

For girls, a preference for evening activities was associated with a higher incidence of relational aggression or aggressive behavior towards their peers.

Boys who experienced prolonged high levels of cortisol — smaller decreases in cortisol levels from the time of awakening until 4 pm — tended to have more behavior problems than did their peers, the report indicates. The association was not true for girls, however.

Normally, levels of cortisol, the stress hormone associated with circadian rhythms, peak in the morning upon awakening and plateau during the afternoon and evening hours.

Abnormalities in cortisol secretion, have also been associated with clinical depression and antisocial behavior in earlier studies, the researchers note.

Boys who hit puberty at earlier ages tended to also engage in more rule-breaking and attention behavior problems than did other boys, according to parent reports, and they self-reported more symptoms of conduct disorder.

Girls who were younger at puberty reported more relational aggression compared with their peers, study findings indicate.

Overall, the findings imply that “caregivers should be vigilant to bedtime activities of children and young adolescents,” according to Susman.

“Monitoring these activities is essential for making sure that children and adolescents are going to sleep in time to assure enough sleep for good functioning in school and otherwise,” she added.

SOURCE: Developmental Psychology, July 2007.

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