Racial/Ethnic Disparities in the Relationship Between Traumatic Childhood Experiences and Suboptimal Sleep Dimensions Among Adult Women: Findings from the Sister Study

Int J Behav Med. 2021 Feb;28(1):116-129. doi: 10.1007/s12529-020-09905-5.


Background: Traumatic childhood experiences (TCEs) are associated with poor adulthood sleep, but racial/ethnic disparities have not been well-studied. We investigated the TCE-adulthood sleep relationship among non-Hispanic (NH)-White, NH-Black, and Hispanic/Latina women.

Method: Women enrolled in the Sister Study from 2003 to 2009 reported the following TCEs in a follow-up interview (2008-2012): natural disasters; major accidents; household dysfunction; and sexual, physical, and psychological/emotional abuse. Sleep characteristics included short sleep duration (< 7 h vs. 7-9 h), long sleep onset latency (SOL) (> 30 vs. ≤ 30 min), frequent night awakenings (≥ 3 times/night ≥ 3 times/week [yes vs. no]), and frequent napping (≥ 3 vs. < 3 times/week). Using log-binomial regression to estimate prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for sleep characteristics among women with vs. without TCEs, we investigated racial/ethnic-specific associations and race/ethnicity as a moderator.

Results: Among 40,082 participants (mean age = 55 ± 8.8 years), 55% reported ≥ 1 TCE (NH-White, 54%; NH-Black, 62%; Hispanic/Latina, 57%). NH-White, NH-Black, and Hispanic/Latina women reporting any TCE had a higher prevalence of short sleep compared with their within-race/ethnicity counterparts without TCEs. Associations were strongest among NH-Whites. Compared to NH-Whites with no TCEs, racial/ethnic minorities who reported any TCEs had a higher prevalence of short sleep (PRBlacks = 2.13 [95% CI 2.02-2.24], PRHispanics/Latinas = 1.47 [1.35-1.60]) and long SOL. When comparing racial/ethnic minorities with TCEs to NH-Whites with TCEs, PRs for short sleep (PRBlacks = 1.98 [1.88-2.08] and PRHispanics/Latinas = 1.36 [1.25-1.48]) and long SOL were weaker.

Conclusion: TCEs were positively associated with poor sleep characteristics among women, and TCEs appear to contribute to short sleep duration and long SOL disparities.

Keywords: Adverse childhood experiences; Ethnicity; Race; Sleep; Trauma; Women.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Child
  • Ethnic Groups*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Sleep*
  • United States