Tired Teens More Likely to Commit Crimes as Adults

February 23, 2017

Teenagers who self-report feeling drowsy mid-afternoon also tend to exhibit more anti-social behavior such as lying, cheating, stealing and fighting. Now, research from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of York, in the United Kingdom, shows that those same 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,” says Adrian Raine, the Richard Perry University Professor with appointments 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.

He and Peter Venables, an emeritus psychology professor at the University of York, published their findings in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 

Raine had collected the data for this work 39 years earlier, as part of his Ph.D. research (studying under Venables) but had never analyzed it. Recently, he began noticing cross-sectional studies, those that analyze multiple behaviors at a single point in time, connecting sleep and behavioral problems in children. He dug out his old dissertation work to look for a link between these and illegal behavior in adulthood.

“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 says.

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