BACKGROUND: Sleep onset and maintenance problems are a frequent complaint after traumatic events in children. However, the association of traumatic experiences and disturbed sleep remains to be explained.
OBJECTIVE: To examine the incidence of sleep onset and maintenance problems in children after road traffic accidents and identify potential predictors of sleep onset and maintenance problems, including putative psychopathological mechanisms as well as stressors affecting the family system.
METHOD: In 33 children treated for injuries after road traffic accidents, sleep and measures of psychopathology were assessed 10 days, 2 months, and 6 months after hospital admission. The predictive value of four clusters of predictor variables for children's sleep onset and maintenance problems was prospectively tested by multiple regression analyses. These clusters included socio-demographic, injury- and accident-related, and psychopathological variable clusters as well as factors reflecting stressors concerning mothers and family.
RESULTS: Children suffering from posttraumatic stress reported a prolonged subjective sleep latency. The severity of sleep onset and maintenance problems was predicted by female sex and the child's as well as mothers' posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) severity.
CONCLUSIONS: Sleep onset and maintenance problems in children after trauma appear to result from a complex interaction of multiple factors. Our findings support the transactional model of sleep-wake regulation that bears implications for the development of adequate intervention strategies.