How Early Childhood Trauma Can Impact Your Child’s Sleep

Children who regularly do not get enough quality sleep can experience health and behavioral issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unhealthy sleep habits can cause “poor mental health, and problems with attention and behavior.”

Havenwood Academy offers comprehensive treatment programs for teen girls struggling with mental health and behavioral issues caused by early childhood trauma. The structured nature of our program encourages a healthy sleep schedule and allows the girls in our care to process their trauma.

How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need? 

Children require significantly more sleep than adults. The CDC recommends that children six to 12 years old get between nine and 12 hours of sleep each night. Teenagers require slightly less, as the recommendation is between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night. If children get fewer than the recommended hours of sleep, the effects can include: 

  • Unusual anger or irritation 
  • Depressive symptoms, including loss of motivation 
  • Extreme mood swings 
  • Exhaustion or frequent napping 
  • Difficulty focusing 
  • Increased anxiety 

According to the World Journal of Psychiatry, up to 77.1% of children who witness or live through a traumatic experience may develop sleep disturbances. Children who do not get enough sleep often have a lower stress tolerance which increases the risk of retaining trauma. Childhood trauma can make it difficult for some teens to regulate their emotions. Even minor inconveniences or emotional distress can cause extreme behavioral responses if a child is exhausted.

How Does Childhood Trauma Affect Sleep? 

Children who live in unstable, unsafe, or traumatic home environments often suffer from sleep disturbances due to mental or physical health issues. According to the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, “[S]leep disturbances are a relatively common phenomenon among trauma-exposed children and . . . these symptoms may exacerbate other trauma-related symptoms and/or behavioral difficulties.” 

The side effects of irregular sleep compound over time. Chronic sleep disturbances can cause children to struggle with mental health and behavioral issues as they grow into young adults.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can affect cognitive, social, and emotional development in adolescents and teens. Adopted children have a higher risk of experiencing untreated or undisclosed ACEs. Sleep disturbances are often a symptom of childhood trauma. In some cases, sleep problems increase the chance that a child will develop mental health issues or participate in risk-taking behaviors. 

Can Sleep Disturbances Cause Developmental Issues?

Sleep is vital for children’s cognitive, emotional, and physical development. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “sleep affects learning and behavior through specific brain changes.” Physiological changes and typical childhood growth require regular quality sleep. If a child struggles with sleep disturbances, they may experience noticeable developmental delays. 

Sleep disturbances can cause the following issues as children transition into young adulthood:

  • Increased risk of accident and injury 
  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Obesity 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Substance misuse

If children do not improve their sleep patterns, they may continue to get too little sleep during adulthood. This lack of quality sleep can contribute to dementia, cancer, or heart disease. Providing a child with professional mental health treatment can help them recover from early childhood trauma and improve their sleep quality. 

3 Ways to Help Your Child Improve Their Sleep 

Children need to get enough sleep every night to ensure they have the energy to cope with daily stressors. Teens with mental health and behavioral issues often have decreased instances of severe anxiety and depression symptoms if they follow a healthy sleep schedule. Havenwood Academy encourages adolescents and teens to establish healthy sleep patterns. Below are three easy ways parents can help their child improve their sleep. 

#1 Create a Sleep Schedule 

A sleep schedule might seem a bit childish for teens and young adults. However, it is the most effective way to prevent avoidable sleep disturbances. A sleep schedule includes implementing a bedtime routine. For example, a bedtime routine might include hygiene habits and 30 minutes of reading. Parents can talk with their child and develop an age-appropriate sleep schedule to ensure they get the recommended amount of sleep each night. 

#2 Limit Access to Technology Before Bed

Most smart devices are distracting and can interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep. Cutting off technology use before bedtime can signal to their body that it is time to rest. Parents can set a lock on smart devices to make them inaccessible after a specific time to ensure their child follows their sleep schedule. Some forms of technology that frequently interfere with sleep include: 

  • Phones 
  • Tablets 
  • Laptops 
  • Game systems 
  • Music playing devices 
  • Smartwatches

#3 Limit Light Exposure Before and During Sleep

The lights in your child’s room might contribute to sleep disturbances. According to the CDC, blue light can hinder children from falling and staying asleep. Conversely, a red light appears to have no negative effect on circadian rhythm. If your child wants lights in their room at night, it might be helpful to ensure they are red, orange, or dim yellow. 


Think Havenwood Might Be For You?

We encourage any visitors considering placing their daughter in treatment to fill out our online assessment as soon as possible. This two minute form will give our admissions team all the information needed to determine if your daughter is a good fit for our program.