Sleep mediates the link between resiliency and behavioural problems in children at high and low risk for alcoholism

J Sleep Res. 2016 Jun;25(3):341-9. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12382. Epub 2016 Feb 8.


Children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk for developing substance use problems. Having a parent with any mental illness increases the risk for sleep disorders in children. Using actigraphy, this study characterized sleep in children of alcoholics and community controls over a period of 1 week. This study further examined whether sleep characteristics of the children mediated the relationship between self-regulation indices (i.e. undercontrol and resiliency) and outcome measures of function (e.g. problem behaviours and perceived conflict at home). Eighty-two children (53 boys, 29 girls, 7.2-13.0 years old) were recruited from the ongoing Michigan Longitudinal Study. Seventeen participants had no parental history of alcohol abuse or dependence family history negative (FH-), 43 had at least one parent who was a recovered alcoholic, and 22 had at least one parent who met diagnostic criteria within the past 3 years. Sleep was assessed with actigraphy and sleep diaries for 1 week, and combined with secondary analysis of data collected for the longitudinal study. FH- children had more objectively measured total sleep time. More total sleep time was associated with greater resiliency and behavioural control, fewer teacher-reported behavioural problems, and less child-reported conflict at home. Further, total sleep time partially mediated the relationship between resiliency and perceived conflict, and between resiliency and externalizing problems. These findings suggest that in high-risk homes, the opportunity to obtain sufficient sleep is reduced, and that insufficient sleep further exacerbates the effects of impaired dispositional self-regulatory capacity on behavioural and emotional regulation.

Keywords: actigraphy; externalizing behaviors; resiliency; undercontrol.

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy
  • Adolescent
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Michigan
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Problem Behavior / psychology*
  • Resilience, Psychological*
  • Risk
  • Self Report
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / psychology