New research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that teens who fail to get enough sleep are more likely to commit violent crimes in adulthood.
“It’s the first study to our knowledge to show that daytime sleepiness during teenage years are associated with criminal offending 14 years later,” said Adrian Raine, who worked on the study.
Sleepiness and Crimes
Now, if every teenager who failed to get eight hours of sleep went on to commit violent crimes in adulthood, the vast majority of individuals in society would be violent offenders, but the findings still shine an interesting light on the subject. For his research, Raine asked 101 15-year-old boys about their tiredness at the end of the school day. They were asked to rate their tiredness on a scale from 1 to 7, with 1 being “unusually alert” and 7 being “sleepy.” Participants were also hooked up to monitoring devices that tracked their brain-wave activity and sweat-rate responses to stimuli, which can help gauge a person’s attentional function.
After completing the preliminary examine, participants were asked about their social behaviors. The teens self reported their social habits, and two or three teachers who had worked with the students also graded the students’ social behaviors.
“Both are helpful. There are kids who don’t really want to talk about their anti-social behavior, and that’s where the teacher reports really come in handy,” Raine said. “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, Raine held onto the data for 14 years before searching the Central Criminal Records Office in London to learn about which of the 101 participants had a criminal record at the age of 29. Raine did not look at minor crimes like jaywalking or rolling a stop sign and instead focused on violent crime and property offenders. He uncovered that 17 percent of participants had committed a crime before they reached the age of 30.
Analyzing The Findings
After analyzing the self-reported, teacher-reported and criminal record data, Raine uncovered some interesting correlations. He found that teens who self-reported being drowsy and exhibiting more anti-social behavior were 4.5 times more likely to have committed a violent crime before the age of 30.
“Daytime drowsiness is associated with poor attention,” said Raine. “Take poor attention as a proxy for poor brain function. If you’ve got poor brain functioning, you’re more likely to be criminal.”
Raine noted that many teenagers with sleep deficiency don’t go on to be lawbreakers, but he did find an interesting correlation between feelings of drowsiness, anti-social behavior and future criminal activity. He said the findings can be used to help develop a treatment plan for teens who report feeling drowsy and exhibit anti-social behaviors. However, while those specific treatment plans are still being formulated, researchers said pushing for kids to get more sleep may help in the meantime.
“That could make a difference not just for anti-social behavior at school with these teenage kids but more importantly, with later serious criminal behavior,” Raine said. “More sleep won’t solve crime, but it might make a bit of a dent.”