Odd Enough Helping teens sleep more may lower crime rates

A new study finds an alarming new long-term consequence of sleep deprivation in teens.

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A teenager. play

A teenager.

(Prospect Magazine)
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​Experts have an unusual suggestion for lowering the crime rate: Help teens get more sleep.

Recent research from the University of Pennsylvania found that 15-year-olds who reported feeling drowsy were more likely than their well-rested peers to commit crimes later in life.

To be clear, the study does not suggest that sleep deprivation makes you a criminal or that just because teens are sleepy, they’re guaranteed to become criminals.

However, it does suggest that helping teens get more sleep might might mitigate other behaviors — such as antisocial behavior, acting out, fighting — that are known to make them more likely to get into trouble as adults.

In 1979, University of Pennsylvania criminology professor Adrian Raine and his colleagues studied 101 15-year-old boys from three different schools in England and asked them to rate how sleepy they were. (The data were initially gathered as part of a larger study that examined what causes kids to act out.)

Raine and his co-authors also recorded the boys’ brainwave activity as well as had them listen to various tones via headphones and recorded their sweat-rate responses.

Lastly, the researchers collected behavioral assessments (that assessed their levels of swearing, destructiveness, disobedience, and fighting) for each boy from at least two teachers.

Fourteen years later in 1993, they looked at public criminal records and found that 17 of the boys had been convicted of committing a violent crime or property offense between the ages of 15 and 29.

Raine told the Huffington Post that because recent research has linked sleep deprivation to behavioral problems in teens, he was inspired to look at the data again and found that the boys who had reported being the most sleepy in the afternoon were 4.5 times more likely to commit crimes than the boys who reported being the least sleepy.

"It really does like sleep problems -- [which result in] daytime drowsiness -- are a risk factor for criminal offense," Raine told the Huffington Post.

Again, this research definitely doesn't prove that sleepiness results in crime, plus there are many other factors that impact criminal behavior.

Raine also found that the boys from lower socioeconomic groups were more likely than their wealthier peers to be sleepy in the afternoon, and he stressed that larger studies with more subjects need to be conducted to better understand exactly how sleep impacts growing teens.

Still, helping teens get more sleep could be an easy way to keep them healthy, happy, and hopefully, out of trouble.

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