Page last updated: June 2010
Puberty and sleep regulation can influence alcohol use during early

A new study of associations among pubertal development, sleep preferences and problems,
and alcohol use in early adolescence has found that puberty is related to sleep problems and later
bedtimes, which were in turn associated with alcohol use.
Sara Pieters, a doctoral student in neuropsychology at the University Nijmegen and her colleagues used data collected from a larger study of 725 children in grades one through six in five participating Dutch schools. Questionnaire data from 431 adolescents (236 girls, 195 boys) aged 11 to 14 years of age were analysed.
“Our results indicated that puberty was related to sleep problems and more evening-type tendencies such as favoring later bedtimes, which in turn were positively related to early adolescent alcohol use,” said Pieters. “Underlying psychopathology, gender, and educational level did not change these relationships, meaning that these factors are not the explanatory mechanism behind this relation. From this study, it can be concluded that both puberty and sleep regulation are important factors in explaining alcohol use in early adolescence.”

Colleague Carmen Van Der Zwaluw stated “[The finding that] puberty was related to alcohol use, via sleep problems and delayed circadian preference,” “means that: [one,] early-maturing adolescents, in terms of puberty, tend to have more ‘owllike’ tendencies such as favoring later bedtimes, and experience more sleep problems; [and two,] adolescents who have more owl-like tendencies and who experience more sleep problems also report higher levels of alcohol consumption.”
Pieters concludes “This study has shown that puberty dependent sleep regulation is an important aspect of explaining alcohol use in early adolescence… Our advice to clinicians would be to better screen for sleep problems when adolescents seem to have other psychosocial or behavioural problems. To parents it is recommended that they monitor their offspring’s sleep, keeping in mind that sleep has an effect on so many other health domains, including risky behaviours such as alcohol consumption.”
Results will be published in the September 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

All text and images © 2003 Alcohol In Moderation.