Irregular Sleep Patterns Contribute to Antisocial Behavior
> 7/23/2007 3:56:43 PM

Recent studiessuggest that the implied link between late nights, irregular sleeppatterns and adolescent misbehavior is far from coincidental: thechemical changes visited upon the night-owl brain encourage antisocial tendencies.

This unfortunate equation centers on the hormone cortisol:though known as the "stress hormone," it heavily influences suchdisparate functions as blood pressure, immune system maintenance,metabolism and other chemical balancing acts within the body. Relatingto the equation unearthed by the current research, cortisol usuallyregisters its highest presence in the mornings directly after awakeningand declines slightly to remain mostly stable throughout the day.Children who stay up late and get less sleep each night will obviouslyhave reduced amounts of cortisol in their systems, and when levels arerecorded they will display a less dramatic decline from morning tonight, hovering within a smaller statistical range. Previous studiesalso note that low levels of the hormone very closely correspond with aggressive behaviorin children aged 7 to 13, largely due to the fact that an individual'sstress response mechanisms suffer in the absence of appropriatequantities of cortisol. In high-anxiety moments, cortisol productionmultiplies and fuels the body's "fight or flight" response, heighteningcognitive function and physical strength in the evolutionary interestof survival. Abnormal cortisol readings leaning toward either extremecreate problems with memory, concentration and rational thought.

Instudying the behaviors of more than one hundred children aged 7 to 13over a four-year period, Penn State researchers found that girls whopreferred to stay up later and had reduced variation in theirmorning/evening cortisol levels also displayed more confrontational or"relational aggression" behaviors. The sleep deficits' effects on boyswere severe, as they were more desperate for attention, unable to focuson given tasks, and less likely to be able to control their ownbehavior. Such tendencies can lead, over time, to substance abuseproblems and various behavioral deficiencies stemming from an inabilityto grasp, process or focus on the conseqences of one's actions. Whileaccumulated data tends to point toward internal biology as the majordeciding factor in a young life (subconsciously) dedicated todisruptive, destructive and illegal behavior, insisting on normalbedtime schedules for pre-teens and adolescents is a reasonablemeasure. Adolescence itself is not the only culprit, as some of thestudy's subjects began misbehaving well before puberty. A more heavilyregulated sleep schedule might help their bodies better regulatethemselves and work more effectively toward preventing the offendingacts.

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