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Night Owl Behavior Harmful to Preteens

Girl SleepingA new study suggests preteens who prefer to be active in the evening, rather than in the morning, may be at risk for behavioral problems in early adolescence.

Psychologists found that kids who prefer evenings are more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior, rule-breaking, and attention problems.

Results from the study further suggest that atypical secretions of the hormone cortisol and early pubey are both linked to antisocial behavior, though the findings are stronger for boys than girls.

Elizabeth J. Susman, professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, and her colleagues are trying to understand how a characteristic titled ‘morningness/eveningness’, along with the ratio of cortisol readings taken in the morning and afternoon, influences young adolescent behavior.

“Morningness/eveningness refers to individual differences in sleep-wake patterns and preferences for activity and alertness during mornings or evenings,” Susman said. Previous studies with older adolescents show that it is linked to various psychological problems.

Susman thinks eveningness could make young adolescents vulnerable to antisocial behavior as well, and is studying how atypical patterns of cortisol secretion might add to the problem.

In humans, this hormone is responsible for regulating various behavioral traits such as the fight-flight response and immune activity that are connected to sensory acuity and aspects of learning and memory.

Cortisol normally spikes in the morning and falls to a plateau by afternoon and evening.

Readings taken in the morning and afternoon usually show a significant drop, and scientists associate small differences in the readings with clinical depression and antisocial behavior.

The current study analyzed the preference for morning or evening activities among 111 boys and girls aged 8 to 13. Researchers then collected cortisol readings from saliva, and assessed the kids for a host of undesirable behavioral traits.

Results from the study suggest that a preference for eveningness is associated with traits of antisocial behavior such as rule-breaking, attention problems, and conduct disorder. However, these antisocial traits were seen only in boys.

“In girls, eveningness is associated just with relational aggression,” said Susman. “This is behavior specifically meant to hurt another child’s friendship, or feelings of isolation.”

When the researchers factor in early puberty, the study finds that though it does not affect either the preference for mornings or evenings, or the cortisol ratio, earlier puberty is related to more antisocial behavior in boys, and relational aggression in girls.

“The link between eveningness preference and antisocial behavior was previously associated only with older adolescents,” noted Susman, whose findings appear in the July 2007 issue of Developmental Psychology.

“The novel finding of the study is that the link is now apparent as early as 8 year old kids.”

Such early development of a preference for eveningness might have serious implications in later life, according to the researchers.

“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,” the Penn State researcher added.

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, Susman noted.

Source: Penn State

Night Owl Behavior Harmful to Preteens

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Night Owl Behavior Harmful to Preteens. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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