Background: Sleep disturbance is frequently reported in children after traumatic experiences associated with organised violence. The aim of this study was to identify specific traumatic risk indicators and modifying factors for sleep disturbance among recently arrived refugee children from the Middle East.
Methods: The study group comprises 311, 3-15 year old refugee children from the Middle East. On arrival in Denmark, their parents participated in a structured interview about their childrens' health and history of exile and eventual exposure to war, organised violence and human rights violation.
Results: A family history of violence (grandparent's violent death before the birth of the child or parental exposure to torture) as well as a stressful present family situation (father scolds the child more than previously) were the strongest predictors of prevalent sleep disturbance in the children. Arriving in Denmark with both parents rather than one was a modifying factor, so the effect of traumatic experience on sleep patterns later in childhood was mediated through parental presence and behaviour.
Conclusion: This study indicates that the family environment is of primary importance for childhood sleep disturbance following traumatic experiences connected with war and other organised violence.