Kids with Sleeping Problems Become Drunks
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Kids with Sleeping Problems Become Drunks


Had trouble sleeping as a kid? Well, according to a new study, that could have made you more susceptible to drinking problems as an adult.

The lead study author, Maria Wong of Idaho State University, doesn’t seem to believe this is causal—that is, that kids who don’t sleep well as a result of anxiety or other mental issues will end up reaching for alcohol as a way to self-soothe—but rather a parenting issue. “A lot of parents don’t monitor their adolescents’ sleep schedules and let them make their own decisions about when to go to bed,” Wong noted.

To me, this is the crux of it: having involved parents—experts say—reduces abusive experimentation with alcohol and drugs.

Of course, just because you weren’t in bed by 10 pm in high school doesn’t mean that, as an adult, you’ll end up out all night at the bar and up to no good. I was a pretty good kid—I’m talking straight A’s, never had a cavity and, yes, in bed by 10—and I still became an alcoholic.

Still, sleep is a healthy habit, and getting shit-faced is not, and so it makes sense to me that those lacking healthy habits as kids might lack healthy habits as adults. More than this: kids need to be taught shit, including wholesome versus unwholesome choices, and self-soothing rituals like putting themselves to bed.

As a teenager, I didn’t have an adult telling me when to turn out the lights. My freshman year of high school, my grandmother—whom my parents, brother and I lived with—went into the hospital. When she died, my mom checked out. I didn’t understand grief then, and what it does to a person. Even before this, my mother’s involvement was sporadic—she worked full-time on top of caring for a family, and we struggled financially—but after my grandma died, she was emotionally gone.

I put myself to bed and did a pretty good job of it, all things considered, until—at 19—I started working nights as a stripper. It was all downhill from there.

Downhill like a shit snowball. Sure, stripping meant I could work and go to school, and participate in unpaid internships that seemed to be a necessary part of the undergraduate experience. I could take care of myself financially; but emotionally, I was still a little girl. Not to mention that working as a stripper meant late hours on school nights, and being around alcohol. And dealing with bullshit from clients. And lying about how I made money. My already suffering relationship with my mom suffered further. I didn’t tell her or my boyfriend about my new job. Eight years later, that boyfriend and I were still dating, I was still stripping, and I still hadn’t told him.

I started drinking at work. Of course. When I drank, my sleep was shit. Come to think of it, it was probably the first sign I had a problem. Study after study proves that alcohol before bed can have a negative effect, and so it’s no surprise that when my drinking took off—which happened when I finally stopped working as a stripper—I started having sleeping problems. When I quit dancing I’d have the equivalent of drunk dreams: I’d dream that I was back in the club, and wanting to audition, but I’d have forgotten my heels. I suffered from nightmares and would grind my teeth in my sleep so badly that a dentist insisted I wear a mouth guard.

In the Buddhist tradition, we talk about “cultivating the good.” Good habits lead to the formation of good character. Good habits beget good habits. And bad habits—even things as innocent as staying out late or telling white lies—can lead to a serious mess. By my mid-20s, sex and alcohol had become a full-on addiction. I think about how miserable I was then, and how badly a part of me wanted relief. And yet, relief escaped me. The year before I got sober, I was on a prescription sleep medication and other drugs meant to “slow me down” but the other, addicted side of me was determined to stay out partying anyway. I’d fall into bed for three or four fitful hours, hoping to catch another hour or two of sleep the next day at work at my desk.

I was so desperate for a solution. I lived in a sleep-deprived, medicated fog. Who would’ve thought all I needed was a good, sober night’s sleep? (Followed by another one, and another one, and…you get the idea).

Sleep is one of my favorite healthy habits I’ve developed in sobriety. I absolutely love my bed, and I don’t even have a nice one. It may be a full-sized, futon mattress, but I am its queen. I sleep a solid eight hours a night. You might say that I consider consistently good sleep one of the “cash and prizes” of sobriety.

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About Author

Melissa Petro is a freelance writer and writing instructor living in New York City. She has written for NY Magazine, The Guardian, Salon, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Jezebel, xoJane, The Fix and elsewhere. She is the founder of Becoming Writers, a community organization that provides free and low cost memoir-writing workshops to new writers of all backgrounds and experiences.