Child Sexual Abuse as a Longitudinal Predictor of Sleep in Adulthood: Exploring the Role of Perceived Stress as a Mediator Open Access

Jhaveri, Shuchita (Spring 2020)

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Child sexual abuse has been linked to a variety of long-term health outcomes, including mental health effects such as anxiety and sleep disturbances. There is a dearth of research on the impact of child sexual abuse and adult sleep using nationally representative longitudinal data. Additionally, studies on the role of perceived stress as a pathway between child sexual abuse and sleep disturbances are also scarce. The objective of this study is to explore a mediation model for the relationship between child sexual abuse and sleep in adulthood by studying perceived stress as the mediator. This study is based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health publicly available dataset. The independent variable was a dichotomous measure created based on child sexual abuse by a parent, caregiver or other adult reported retrospectively in waves 3 and 4. The mediator was a perceived stress scale based on data from wave 4 using four stress variables, each measured on a four point Likert scale (range 0 – 16, alpha = .71). Sleep data for the two outcomes of falling asleep and staying asleep were obtained from wave 4. Structural equation modeling was conducted to test the mediating effects of perceived stress on the relationship between child sexual abuse and adult sleep. In this analytical sample, 730 (14.4%) participants experienced child sexual abuse. Compared to those with no experiences of child sexual abuse, participants who reported child sexual abuse had higher mean scores on perceived stress (5.8 versus 4.6, p<.001), difficulty in falling asleep (1.46 versus 1.06, p<.001), and difficulty in staying asleep (1.63 versus 1.23, p<.001). The structural equation modeling showed that perceived stress statistically significantly mediates the relationship between child sexual abuse and sleep. The proportion mediated by stress in the relationship between child sexual assault and falling asleep is 0.35. The proportion mediated by stress in the relationship between child sexual abuse and staying asleep is 0.26. Findings from this study reinforce previous research while suggesting perceived stress in adulthood as an important pathway through which child sexual abuse may lead to sleep problems in young adulthood.

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