Seeing real-life violence disturbs a child’s sleep

Being subjected to or witnessing a violent act affects the quality and quantity of a child's sleep

NightmaresAccording to researchers in Cleveland, a child exposed to violence continues to get tormented even in sleep. How badly the child feels traumatised and for how long correlates with how severe the violence was. Nightmares and insomnia have always been associated with such violence, but the Cleveland study explores various facets of the impact on children. For example, sleep is affected to a greater degree if the child is victimised during the violent event than if the child is just a witness to the violence. Also, seeing a homicide seems to distress the child more as time passes.

“This work is showing that experiencing even a single violent event as a victim or as a witness may influence sleep behavior in different ways, which in turn may negatively affect a child’s health and functioning,” said James Spilsbury, PhD, the study’s principal investigator.

Children with insufficient sleep are prone to problems in their development. Poor sleep also relates to serious health risks like high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity and accidents.

Spilsbury and colleagues at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic Multidisciplinary Research Training Program measured the sleep of 46 children, ages 8 to 16, who were participating in a social service programme for children exposed to violence. Ethnicity was mixed, but the children were largely disadvantaged and living in urban settings.

“Even after controlling for the possible effects of exposure to violence in the previous year, we saw that the severity of the more recent event had a measurable, negative influence on a child’s quantity and quality of sleep,” Spilsbury said.


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