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Study Finds Link Between Trauma, Poor Sleep in Teens

Sarah Shoen

Written by

Sarah Shoen, PR Specialist

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A new study from Norway has found an increased risk for sleep problems and insomnia in teens who receive certain welfare services and who have experienced traumatic life events.

Researchers investigated the sleep patterns and history of traumatic life events of more than 9,000 teenagers, ages 16 to 19. Within this group, one set of teens lived with foster families, another set received child welfare services while remaining in their own homes, and the third set reported not receiving any welfare services.

teenager looking forlorn

Teens who received services experienced more sleep issues than the teens who did not in the following ways:

  • Shorter sleep duration
  • Sleeping less efficiently
  • Going to bed later on weekdays and weekends
  • Taking longer to fall asleep after going to bed (longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep)
  • Waking up at night
  • Increased odds of insomnia
The rate of insomnia was 39% among teens who received in-home welfare services.

Adolescents who received welfare services, particularly those receiving in-home services, had the highest rate of sleep problems. These teens, compared to those who live with a foster family, remain in their own homes and receive support services.

Teens receiving in-house services reported an average of 5 hours of sleep on weekdays and seven hours of sleep on weekends — 90 minutes less per night than the group who did not have contact with welfare services. This group’s rate of having insomnia was the highest, at 39%.

When the researchers factored in the teens’ responses about traumatic life events, results suggested that traumatic life events contributed to the teens’ increased risk of having sleep issues.

These traumatic life events include:

  • Death of someone close to them, such as a parent, guardian, or sibling
  • A catastrophe or serious accident
  • Violence from a grownup
  • Witnessing violence
  • Unwanted sexual actions

How Home Environments Affect Sleep

Researchers say this study highlights the importance of supporting the mental health and home environments of teens with a history of experiencing traumatic events, as they also can support better sleep health. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause sleep issues. Adolescents already may have a hard time getting enough sleep because of this age group’s body clock shift, school start times, and other factors.

The difference between at-home service and foster care dynamics, researchers note, may have to do with a supportive home environment. Foster parents go through a selection process and have the support of welfare service employees to help meet their foster children’s needs. Teens who live with still their families and receive in-home services, on the other hand, may still experience “turbulent and [un]resolved family conditions,” researchers involved in the study said.

Supportive home environments may have a positive effect on sleep health. Teens who remained in their families’ homes and received only in-home welfare services had higher rates of insomnia and other sleep issues than those living with foster parents. Researchers point to the likelihood of a more supportive home environment as a factor in helping those teens get better sleep.

Identifying and treating sleep issues is important in supporting the sleep and mental health of this population of teens, researchers say. In particular, they say that cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) may help support positive changes to adolescents’ sleep health.

Educating families in contact with welfare services about sleep health risks and establishing supportive home environments may also help this group of teens.

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About Our Editorial Team

Sarah Shoen

PR Specialist

Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She has a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.


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