I have already published on this site a great many articles about how those of us who have suffered significant childhood trauma are at considerably higher risk of suffering from psychiatric conditions, as adults, than average. One such condition is that we tend to be far more prone to developing what psychologists term ‘hypervigilence’ (partly due to the fact that, as children, we learned to be on constant look out for potential threats).
It has been proposed by the psychologists Perlisent et al (1997), that such hypervigilence, and the associated hyperarousal of our nervous systems that it entails, can be linked to insomnia in those who have experienced early life trauma. Insomnia, in this group of the population, is especially likely to occur during periods of adult life when the individual is exposed to further significant stress; this is due to the fact that (as several studies have shown) those who have suffered childhood trauma are, on average, far less able to cope with stress as adults than average.
FINDINGS OF SLEEP STUDIES OF ADULTS WHO HAVE SUFFERED SIGNIFICANT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA :
– The psychologists Sadeh et al,(1995) found that adults who had experienced severe abuse in childhood experienced significantly less ‘quiet-motionless’ sleep than average.
– Bader et al’s study (2007) confirmed the above results and also found that those who had experienced significant childhood trauma :
– took significantly longer to fall asleep than average
– experienced significantly less ‘refreshing’/poorer quality sleep than average
POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS FOR ABOVE FINDINGS :
I have already said that the sensation of hypervigilence/hyperarousal those of us who have experienced significant childhood trauma frequently experience is likely to be one contributory factor that puts us at greater risk than average of developing insomnia in our adult lives.
Also, it has been proposed by the researchers Otte et al (2005), that those who have experienced childhood trauma may, as a result, have neurophysiological reasons for being prone to insomnia, as their brains have been affected in such a way that they become far more reactive to stress is usual (click here to read my post on how childhood trauma can affect the physical development of the brain).
THE ROLE OF DISTRESSING MEMORIES
Another explanation as to why more sleep disturbance is found in those who suffered early trauma is that they tend to have a far greater stock of distressing memories than average which, when triggered, lead to nightmares and the associated deleterious effect on sleep.
Finally, it has been suggested by the psychologists Gregory et al (2005) that it is not infrequently the case that those who have experienced early life trauma have had chaotic upbringings and, as a result, did not learn healthy sleeping patterns during childhood.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).