The Relationship Between Childhood Trauma and Poor Sleep Health in Adulthood

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Abstract

Objective

Childhood trauma has been related to adverse behavioral, mental, and health outcomes later in life. Sleep may be a potential mechanism through which childhood trauma is related to adverse health. The current retrospective study aimed to characterize the relationship between childhood trauma exposure and sleep health, a novel multidimensional measure of sleep.

Methods

Participants (N = 161; mean [standard deviation] age = 59.85 [9.06] years; 67.7% female) retrospectively reported trauma exposure using the Trauma History Questionnaire. Childhood trauma was defined as the number of reported traumatic events before 18 years of age. Trauma exposure after 18 years of age and across the life-span was also recorded. Sleep health was derived both from diary- and actigraphy-assessed measures of sleep regularity, timing, efficiency, and duration, subjective sleep satisfaction, and daytime sleepiness from the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. The relationships between childhood trauma exposure and sleep health were examined using hierarchical linear regression, controlling for relevant covariates.

Results

In unadjusted models, a greater number of childhood trauma exposures were associated with poorer diary- and actigraphy-measured sleep health in adulthood. After adjustment for current stress, depression history, and other sociodemographic covariates, greater childhood trauma remained significantly associated with poorer sleep health (diary: β = −0.20, ΔR2 = 0.032; actigraphy: β = −0.19, ΔR2 = 0.027). Trauma exposure after 18 years of age and across the life-span did not relate to diary- or actigraphy-based sleep health.

Conclusions

Childhood trauma may affect sleep health in adulthood. These findings align with the growing body of evidence linking childhood trauma to adverse health outcomes later in life.

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