Sleep problems and dissociation in preschool victims of sexual abuse

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Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 18(4), 507-521

Objective: Child sexual abuse (CSA) is associated with a host of deleterious impacts, yet little is known about the short-term correlates in children. This study aimed to investigate the association between dissociation and sleep problems in a sample of preschool-age sexual abuse victims while controlling for potentially confounding variables, including gender, age, polytrauma, CSA characteristics, and parental distress.

Method: The sample consisted of 179 children (ages 3-6 years) and their non-offending parents. Parents completed questionnaires assessing their child's dissociative symptoms and sleep problems as well as their own level of psychological distress.

Results: Regression analyses revealed that sleep problems were significantly associated with dissociative symptoms over and above all other control variables (children's gender and age, polytrauma, and parental distress). A longer duration of sexual abuse also predicted greater dissociative symptoms in preschool children.

Conclusion: Findings highlight the association between sleep problems and dissociation in preschool-age victims of CSA. Further research is needed to understand their impact on children's development to design appropriate treatment and prevention initiatives aimed at fostering resilience in young vulnerable children.

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Canadian CW research
Journal article