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Sleep-Deprived Teens More Likely to Commit Crimes than Adults

sleep deprived

New research out of the University of York in the United Kingdom and the University of Pennsylvania reported that teens who report midday sleepiness tend to show more anti-social behaviors like fighting, cheating, stealing, and lying.  In fact, more than a decade later, those same overtired teens were 4-1/2 times more likely to commit violent crimes.

One of the lead authors of the study is Adrian Raine, who is a Professor at Richard Perry University and a member of the Criminology and Psychology Department in the School of Arts & Sciences, as well as Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry.  This is one of the first studies to link daytime sleepiness in teens to criminal activity more than a decade later.

These findings were published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 

As part of his Ph.D. research, Dr. Raine collected data 39 years ago, under the guidance of Peter Venables from the University of York.  He never truly analyzed this data, however.  There has been a recent influx in cross-sectional studies analyzing behaviors at specific points in time in order to link behavioral problems and sleep deprivation in children.  In response to these studies, Dr. Raine reviewed his dissertation and research to find a link between criminal behaviors in adulthood and sleep loss in childhood and adolescence.

The previous research focused heavily on sleep problems, but in the recent study, researchers measured daytime drowsiness in the children instead.

Drs. Raine and Venables used a sample size of 101 teenage boys (15 years of age) from three different schools in northern England.  Each lab session ran from 1 to 3 p.m.  At the end of these sessions, Dr. Raine would ask the participants to rate their sleepiness on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being ‘unusually alert’ and 7 being ‘sleepy.’  He captured information on sweat-rate responses and brain-wave activity to stimuli.  These measured attention levels to a musical tone played through headphones, representing attentional function.

Dr. Raine collected information about anti-social behavior, both from teachers who had worked with the teen for a minimum of four years, as well as those behaviors self-reported by the boys.

Both measurements were helpful because some of the boys did not want to discuss their behaviors, which is where the information from the teachers became useful.  Surprisingly, the teacher and participant reports correlated well.  This is atypical, because you generally get a different story from the kid tham you would get from the teacher.

Dr. Raine followed these same participants by searching London’s Central Criminal Records Office for any criminal activity between the ages of 15 and 29.  He excluded minor violations and focused on property damage offenses and violent crimes.  Also, he only looked at crimes for which the participate was formally convicted.  It was noted that 17% of the boys had some sort of violent criminal behavior by the age of 29.

Dr. Raine incorporated socioeconomic status into his conclusions, noting a definite connection.  The link was found between low social class and early social diversity leading to daytime sleepiness, which in turn led to brain dysfunction and inattention, resulting in criminal behavior 14 years later.  Dr. Raine describes this finding as a flow diagram moving cleanly from one point to the next.

In other words, poor attention is connected to daytime sleepiness.  That lack of focus then serves as the proxy for a dysfunctional brain, which, in Dr. Raine’s analysis, can lead to criminal behavior.

Scientists do emphasize, however, that drowsiness does not predispose a teen to anti-social behavior and criminal activity.  Thousands of children suffer from sleep problems and do not grow up to break the law.  However, it is notable that researchers did find a greater prevalence of anti-social behavior in teens who reported midday sleepiness, which lead to a higher occurrence of crime later in life.

This provides an opportunity to help identify and treat children with behavioral disorders.  A simple trial of getting more quality sleep at night may help solve the behavioral problems.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, and cooking.

A Placebo May be Effective in Treating Insomnia

The journal, Brain, published new research suggesting that insomnia treatment may not need to include neurofeedback, or training of the brain functions.  Instead, researchers found that patients experienced the same benefits if they just believed they were receiving neurofeedback training.

Approximately 10% to 35% of the world’s population suffers from insomnia.  Very few studies have addressed insomnia treatments using non-pharmaceutical measures, despite the condition being a major health concern in our culture.  For this study, scientists recruited 30 patients with a diagnosis of primary insomnia.  All patients underwent neurofeedback training and then a placebo training over the course of several weeks.

The goal of this research was to investigate findings from an earlier study that showed positive effects on sleep quality and memory using neurofeedback.  Researchers wanted to determine if these effects could be replicated in a double-blind placebo study.  All participants underwent 12 sessions of neurofeedback and placebo feedback training in a laboratory.

The focus of the study was on mapping the EEG response to neurofeedback, while also looking at quality of life and sleep habits in insomnia patients.  Because of this, patients underwent EEG before and after both the real and the placebo feedback trainings.  In between the first and second, as well as the third and fourth visits, patients went through 12 sessions each of neurofeedback and placebo feedback training, all with real EEG feedback on different frequency bands.  The order of trainings was counterbalanced, so all 12 sessions were finished within four weeks for each intervention.  Sleep-wake cycles were monitored and analyzed using data from eight nights in a sleep lab, as well as actigraphy and diaries over the entire study period.

Both forms of feedback training were shown to cause equally effective results, which were reflected in patient measures of any sleep complaints.  This suggests that the improvements were more likely due to immeasurable factors such as trusting the experimenter, as well as receiving empathy and care from them.  The improvements, however, were not seen on EEG measures of sleep quality.

For primary insomnia, scientists note that neurofeedback treatment is not more or less efficacious than the placebo.  There was no noticeable advantage of neurofeedback over that of the placebo intervention.

Ultimately, these results indicate that patients would have subjective improvements in sleep and life quality from any form of treatment if they believed it would help.  Scientifically speaking, however, there is no verifiable evidence on EEG brain activity that would suggest real improvement.

Lead author of the study, Manuel Schabus, noted that these results bring up the question of how much of the published data on neurofeedback results are due to patient expectations or unspecified placebo effects.

The symptom improvement reported by patients was not specific to the neurofeedback training.  Instead, the improvement seems to be brought on by immeasurable factors, such as feeling cared for.  Therefore, it must raise the question of whether or not neurofeedback should be promoted as an alternative treatment method for primary insomnia.  This research will stimulate discussions surrounding the usefulness and efficacy of neurofeedback on a broader level.  It may be difficult to achieve positive neurofeedback effects on an objective level due to the patient population having various complaints surrounding insomnia, including learning difficulties.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, and cooking.


It’s Not Just Pre-Bed Screen Time that Causes Sleep Loss

Electronics and Sleep

The ideal 7-9 hours of nightly sleep is a recent discovery.  Historical data suggests humans have been struggling to get a good amount of sleep long before the invention of electronic devices.  Broken sleep was normal in industrial times, according to research from Virginia Tech’s sleep historian, Roger Ekirch.

Several studies have shown that screen time before bed can interrupt sleep patterns; however, recent research shows that even without television, laptops, or other electronic gadgets, people are getting less sleep than recommended by sleep experts.

A study out of Duke University looked at the sleep patterns of a Madagascar farming village without electricity or artificial lights.  Researchers found that these farmers actually get poorer, shorter sleep than those in Europe or the U.S.; however, of important note is that these villagers make up for lost sleep by having a regular sleep routine.

Findings were published in the American Journal of Human Biology. 

The addition of electronics and artificial light use before bed has greatly contributed to the decline of American sleep quality.  These bright lights and active screens make it near impossible for us to stay on course with a 24-hour synched biological clock.  Specifically, our brains are sensitive to the “blue” light that comes from a TV, computer, LED bulb, smartphone, or a number of other devices.  This light signals the brain to slow down its melatonin production, which is the hormone necessary for sleep.

Charles Nunn, a Duke professor, and his colleagues went to a small Madagascar village to try to gain a better understanding of human sleep patterns, especially since these people live without electricity.  This area is one of the few slivers of Earth that has little to no light pollution.

More than a billion people around the world live without electricity.  Rather than flipping a switch to turn on a light at night, villagers and those without electricity spend their time in relative darkness, with the use of oil lamps, the soft glow of cooking fires, or the light of the moon.

Scientists analyzed the nighttime and day naptime sleep patterns of 21 villagers aged 19 to 59 years.

Data was collected using watch devices on the participants, which had built-in motion and light sensors that track any form of movement and light exposure in real-time.  This was done for 292 nights.  Nine of the participants had a polysomnogram performed to see how restful and deep their sleep was.

Findings showed that these villagers got less sleep than those in Europe or America, even without the distraction of gadgets and artificial light.

However, notably, villagers had a more patterned sleep routine.  They generally went to bed around two hours after sunset, approximately 7:30 p.m.  They awoke about an hour before sunrise, around 5:30 a.m.; however, data showed that only 6.5 of those hours were spent sleeping.

Sleep was noted to be light and fragmented.  Houses were made of bamboo walls and thatched or tin roofs that did not keep out noise, and there were nightly parties, roosters, crying children, and barking dogs, making for a hectic sleep environment.

There were frequent nighttime awakenings, often to use the bathroom, which caused them to stay up for another hour or two before falling back to sleep.  Participants spent less time in deeper stages of sleep, especially the dream state called REM.  There was no complaining, however.  About 60% of participants reported being satisfied with their sleep.

The loss of sleep is compensated with daytime naps, usually up to an hour, which is twice as long as catnaps taken by many Westerners, Samson reported.  Researchers noted that the villagers’ sleep habits and bedtime routines were much more consistent than those in Western cultures were.  Even with the use of an LED lantern in the village for one week, participants still had virtually the same sleep and wake times.

This indicates that a regular bedtime routine and sleep schedule is important for a good night’s sleep.

Duke researchers will continue studying sleep patterns in urban populations around the world, with the goal being to build a better understanding of traditional sleep on a global level.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, and cooking.

Some Insomnia Drugs May Be Prescribed Out of Habit

Insomnia medication can be over-prescribed

Multiple factors are responsible for driving the complex clinical decision-making process.  Things like peer pressure, psychological and social dynamics, as well as exposure to pharmaceutical advertising play a role in a physician’s choice of medication to use on patients suffering from insomnia.

Harvard Medical School conducted new research, which shows a physician’s choice of insomnia drug is based heavily on habit.

These results indicate that physicians and other prescribing practitioners use these specific insomnia drugs almost like a reflex, done mostly out of routine rather than taking into account a patient’s medical history, symptoms, or sensitivities.  They may even ignore patient preferences in favor of their preferred insomnia medication.  It was the clinician’s prescribing pattern, not patient characteristics, that was the primary predictor of which drug would be used with insomnia patients.

This research was based on the review of 1,105 patient medical records, including clinical notes.  Results were published in February’s issue of Scientific Reports. 

These results show that, like the rest of the human race, physicians are ultimately creatures of habit, notes Andrew Beam, lead author of the study and research fellow at Harvard’s Department of Biomedical Informatics.  Dr. Beam reminds readers that doctors may not always be as rational as many people believe.

Approximately $60 billion is spent on insomnia every year in the United States.  That number does not even take into account the physical toll the condition takes on sufferers.  It is estimated that insomnia actually affects up to 40% of Americans.  Still, insomnia is one of the most underdiagnosed and poorly treated conditions that blight the American people.

Dr. Beam added in the report of their findings that choosing the right medication should be based on individual patient needs and characteristics.  This is critical to the successful resolution of symptoms, as well as the avoidance of social and psychological consequences related to insomnia.

The two most frequently prescribed insomnia medications, zolpidem and trazodone, were analyzed in this research.  Zolpidem is a newer drug with proven recorded efficacy; however, it is associated with several side effects including dizziness and drowsiness the next day.  Trazodone is older and often used for depression, but it does not have the efficacy of zolpidem; however, its safety profile is well established.

It is still unclear as to why doctors will choose one drug over another, which was the original driving factor for this research at Harvard.  Scientists set out to unravel the driving factors of clinical decision-making.

Researchers analyzed the narrative clinical notes, patient records, and physician prescribing records.  They found that a physician who prescribed one drug in the past was three times as likely to prescribe that medication again to other patients.

It was notable that patients who had depression symptoms along with insomnia were more likely to get a prescription for trazodone than insomnia patients who had no symptoms of depression.  Researchers note that this particular finding suggests that there are some considerations to patient characteristics in the provider’s medical decision-making.

Furthermore, these findings emphasize the importance of the data contained within electronic medical records, which can yield exceptionally interesting insights into the relationship between patient characteristics and provider medical decision-making with regard to treatment options.

Dr. Zak Kohane, department chair at HMS’s Biomedical Informatics, notes that electronic medical records have played a pivotal role in providing a richness to the information that is immediately available for research.  It allows scientists to deconstruct physician behaviors and decision-making habits and put them in context of the patient-provider encounter.  This is a good way to approach treatment decisions for more complex conditions.


 Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.




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