New research has found a link between childhood emotional neglect and insomnia. The findings appear in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.
Previous research has found a strong link between childhood maltreatment and depression. “Importantly, sleep disturbance may be one critical mechanism through which individuals exposed to maltreatment are vulnerable for recurrent depressive episodes. Indeed, sleep complaints are among the most common residual symptoms of depression,” the authors of the study explained.
The researchers surveyed 102 young adults with a history of clinical or subclinical depression regarding childhood trauma, recent life stressors, and anxiety symptoms. The participants also completed a daily measure of depressive symptoms and kept a sleep diary for 2 weeks.
They found that young adults who experienced more childhood emotional neglect reported more difficulty falling and staying asleep, even after controlling for factors such as daily depressive symptoms, recent stress, anxiety, other forms of childhood maltreatment, and several demographic factors.
In other words, participants who did not feel loved or looked out for by their family as children tended to report higher levels of insomnia symptoms.
“Thus, our results highlight a distinct relationship between emotional neglect during childhood and difficulties initiating and/or maintaining sleep as young adults, which is important given that emotional neglect is one of the most prevalent forms of maltreatment,” the researchers said.
Emotional neglect may contribute to insomnia symptoms by depriving individuals of sense of safety, leading to heightened psychophysiological arousal, they explained.
Emotional neglect, however, did not predict sleep duration. But this could be due to the fact that the researchers relied on the participants to keep track of when they went to bed and woke up in the morning, rather than more objective measures of sleep like a wrist-worn actigraph that monitors physical activity.
“Our measure captured time in bed, which may not be the most accurate representation of time spent asleep,” the wrote.
The study, “Childhood Trauma and Sleep Among Young Adults With a History of Depression: A Daily Diary Study“, was authored by Jessica L. Hamilton, Ryan C. Brindle, Lauren B. Alloy, and Richard T. Liu.