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Evening-preference and Adolescent Problems

August 2007 - Research by Elizabeth J. Susman, the Jean Phillips Shibley professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, and colleagues, published recently in Developmental Psychology suggests that early adolescents who prefer evening to morning activities are more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior. Previous studies focusing on older adolescents showed a similar link with psychological problems. Results also indicate that atypical secretions of the hormone cortisol and early puberty are linked to problem behavior, with findings stronger for boys than girls.

Elizabeth J. Susman elaborated:

"Morningness/eveningness refers to individual differences in sleep-wake patterns and preferences for activity and alertness during mornings or evenings."

Researchers explain that cortisol regulates mechanisms such as the fight-flight response and immune activity connected to sensory acuity and elements of learning and memory. Normal readings show a spike in the morning and a significant drop to an afternoon plateau. Smaller differences are associated with clinical depression and antisocial behavior.

The current study assessed 111 boys and girls aged 8 to 13 for their preference for morning or evening activities, cortisol readings from saliva, and incidence of undesirable behavioral traits. Preference for eveningness was associated with antisocial behavior such as rule-breaking, attention problems, and conduct disorder but only in boys. In girls eveningness was associated with relational aggression. Although early puberty did not affect the morning/eveningness preference or the cortisol ratio, it was related to increased levels of antisocial behavior in boys and relational aggression in girls. Researchers suggest that early development of the preference for eveningness could have serious implications in later life.

Elizabeth J. Susman commented:

"The link between eveningness preference and antisocial behavior was previously associated only with older adolescents. The novel finding of the study is that the link is now apparent as early as 8 year old kids .... Eveningness contributes to lack of sleep, and this in turn causes problems such as lack of control and attention regulation, which are associated with antisocial behavior and substance use. Parents need to be vigilant in recognizing early signs of eveningness, and not only encourage their kids to sleep early but also ensure they get the required amount of sleep."

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