Direct experience with a traumatic event can have a multitude of psychological consequences for children. Disrupted sleep may take the form of difficulty falling asleep, frequent nighttime awakenings, restless sleep, nightmares, anxiety dreams, and not wishing to sleep alone. With extensive national media coverage, even those children not directly affected may suffer from these problems. Following major traumatic events in the U.S., immediate and long-lasting effects on children have been studied, and we look to these studies to guide us in the wake of what happened in Newtown, CT on December 14. One of the best reviews of research was published by Dr. Avi Sadeh in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, titled “Stress, Trauma, and Sleep in Children." A broader review focusing on both children and adults was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2001, shortly after the attack of September 11 that year, by Dr. Peretz Lavie titled “Sleep Disturbances in the Wake of Traumatic Events.”
Here are a few conclusions distilled from these reviews that may be helpful for the many children and families affected by last week’s event and the teachers, counselors, ministers, and others who are trying to comfort them.
Lavie, P. (2011). Sleep disturbances in the wake of traumatic events. New England Journal of Medicine, 345, 1825-1832.
Sadeh, A. (1996). Stress, trauma, and sleep in children. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 5, 685-700.