Adverse Childhood Experiences May Be Associated with Sleep Disorders in Postsecondary Students

1. This retrospective analysis of college students demonstrated a relationship between adverse childhood experiences and sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep difficulties.

2. There were no differences in the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and sleep health between different races/ethnicities and between genders.

Evidence rating level: 2 (good)

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been extensively studied with respect to their poor health outcomes in individuals later in life. They have been observed to show patterns of association with sleep health problems in adulthood. Sleep disturbances and difficulty sleeping can consequently evolve into other poor health outcomes in mental and physical health. This is especially onerous for post-secondary students; As such, this retrospective study evaluated whether ACE and poor sleep patterns exist in postsecondary student populations.

The study performed secondary data analyzes of a national college health assessment survey and sampled college students in Texas (n = 407) and California (n = 3606), United States of America. Students enrolled in post-secondary education between the ages of 19 and 27 years were included. Primary outcomes assessed measures of sleep health, including sleep disorder diagnoses and self-reported difficulty sleeping. Additionally, ACEs were categorized as maltreatment (verbal, physical, and sexual abuse) and household dysfunction (family incarceration, alcohol and drug abuse, and witnessed physical violence).

Results showed significant patterns in ACEs and sleep problems among postsecondary students. The study showed higher risks of sleep difficulties and disorders in students who experience maltreatment and dysfunction at home during childhood, followed by maltreatment alone. Importantly, the study did not show any interaction with ACEs and race/ethnicity or gender in a multivariate analysis. However, this study was limited due to a risk of response bias that may underestimate the true incidence of ACEs and a self-report bias that may not accurately assess the severity of sleep disturbances among postsecondary students. Nonetheless, this study was significant in that it further strengthened the association between ACEs and sleep problems, which may help encourage early identification and interventions of ACEs in childhood.

Click to read the study in the Journal of Sleep Research

Image: P.S.

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