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24th Feb 2017

Tired teenagers are almost five times more likely to commit crimes as adults

Teenagers who report feeling sleepy mid-afternoon tend to engage in more anti-social behaviour such as lying, cheating, stealing and fighting.

A joint research study from the University of Pennsylvania in the US and the University of York in the UK, has found that teens who say they feel drowsy halfway through the day are 4.5 times more likely to commit violent crimes a decade and a half later.

Professor Adrian Raine says it’s the first study of its kind,

“It’s the first study to our knowledge to show that daytime sleepiness during teenage years are associated with criminal offending 14 years later.

A lot of the prior research focused on sleep problems, but in our study we measured, very simply, how drowsy the child is during the day.”

The study, which was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, asked 101 15-year-old boys from three secondary schools in the north of England to rate their degree of sleepiness on a 7-point scale. Professor Raine also measured brain-wave activity and sweat-rate responses to stimuli, which indicates the level of attention a person pays to a tone being played over headphones.

Next Raine collected data about anti-social behavior, both self-reported and from teachers who had worked with each teen for at least four years,

“Both are helpful. There are kids who don’t really want to talk about their anti-social behaviour, and that’s where the teacher reports really come in handy.

Actually, the teacher and child reports correlated quite well in this study, which is not usual. Often, what the teacher says, what the parent says, what the child says – it’s usually three different stories.”

Finally, Professor Raine conducted a computerised search at the Central Criminal Records Office in London to suss out which of the original 101 had a criminal record at age 29. Excluding minor violations, focusing instead on violent crimes and property offenses and only those crimes for which participants were convicted, the researchers learned that 17% of participants had committed a crime by that point in adulthood.

Armed with this information, Raine also incorporated the study participants’ socioeconomic status and found an interesting connection,

“Is it the case that low social class and early social adversity results in daytime drowsiness, which results in inattention or brain dysfunction, which results 14 years later in crime? The answer’s yes.

Think of a flow diagram from A to B to C to D. Think of a chain. There is a significant link.

Daytime drowsiness is associated with poor attention. Take poor attention as a proxy for poor brain function. If you’ve got poor brain functioning, you’re more likely to be criminal.”

The research team stress that many children with sleep problems do not go on to break the law. However, they say that their findings could potentially help with a simple treatment plan for children with behavioural issues,

“This could make a difference, not just for anti-social behaviour at school with teenage kids but more importantly, with later serious criminal behaviour.

More sleep won’t solve crime, but it might make a bit of a dent.”

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