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Violence Takes a Toll on Children's Sleep

WEDNESDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) -- Witnessing or being the victim of violence can cause long-term disruption to a child's sleep, according to a new study, and the more severe the violence, the greater the impact on sleep.

Researchers assessed the sleep of 46 children aged 8 to 16 in Cleveland who were enrolled in a social-service program for children exposed to violence. Sleep data was collected for seven days and follow-up with the children was conducted three months later.

Although sleep problems such as insomnia and nightmares have long been linked with exposure to violence, this study found that specific aspects of violence have different effects on children's sleep.

For example, children who are victims of violence tend to sleep less and more poorly than those who saw a violent act but were not victimized. Children who witness a murder have more inconsistent sleep as time passes after the event.

The study was to be presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston. Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"Violence permeates our society, and this work is showing that experiencing even a single violent event as a victim or as a witness may influence sleep behavior in different ways, which, in turn, may negatively affect a child's health and functioning," principal investigator James Spilsbury, of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said in an American Academy of Sleep Medicine news release.

Children who don't get enough sleep are at increased risk for development and behavior problems. Research has also linked lack of sleep to health issues such as high blood pressure, obesity, depression, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children and sleep.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, news release, June 13, 2012

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