A study from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of York, in the United Kingdom, shows that tired teens are 4.5 times more likely to commit violent crimes a decade and a half later.
“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 in a statement.
Sleepy teens are more likely to commit violent crimes a decade and a half later. (c) ChildrensMD
Raine is a Richard Perry University professor, he also works in the departments of Criminology and Psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences and the Department of Psychiatry in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.
Perry and his colleague, Peter Venables, a psychology professor at the University of York, conducted the work and published the findings in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The researchers collected the data for the study 39 years earlier. It was a part of Perry's Ph.D. research, but had never analyzed it.
“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,” Raine said in a statement.
Perry tested 101 15-year-old boys from three secondary schools in the north of England. At the start and end of each lab session, which always ran from 1 to 3 p.m., he asked participants to rate their degree of sleepiness on a 7-point scale, with 1 being “unusually alert” and 7 being “sleepy.”
He 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.
Probably why sleepy teens may commit crime
Then, he collected data about anti-social behavior, both self-reported from the study participants, as well as from two or three teachers who had worked with each teen for at least four years.
“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.”
Raine also gathered a computerized search at the Central Criminal Records Office in London to suss out which of the original 101 had a criminal record at age 29. The researchers learned that 17 percent of participants had committed a crime by that point in adulthood.
“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,” he said. “Think of a flow diagram from A to B to C to D. Think of a chain. There is a significant link.”
The researchers pointed out that drowsiness in and of itself doesn’t always predispose a teenage boy to becoming anti-social. Many children with sleep problems do not become lawbreakers. However, the researchers did find that those with sleepiness and a greater frequency of anti-social behavior during teenage years had higher odds of a life of crime later.