Sleep key to treating PTSD in kids

Posted 18 May 2023
Improving the mental health and wellbeing of the millions of children worldwide exposed to trauma is a monumental task.

With the help of a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant, Associate Professor Jessica Paterson has a plan to “significantly improve” treatment for children with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by targeting their sleep.

“Trauma-related sleep disturbance is a hallmark symptom of PTSD and can manifest as difficulty falling or staying asleep, and distressing nightmares,” A/Prof Paterson explains.

“Despite the nature of sleep disturbance in PTSD, and an increasing understanding of sleep disturbance as a core feature of PTSD, first-line treatment for PTSD in children does not specifically address sleep.

“But addressing sleep disturbance in treatment of posttraumatic stress is important because ongoing sleep disturbance impedes recovery and worsens symptoms of posttraumatic stress.”

One in three primary-school aged children (5-12 years) will experience trauma and have an increased likelihood of developing PTSD.

A/Prof Paterson’s latest study will look at integrating existing sleep therapies alongside current approaches to treating PTSD in primary school aged children.

“Treating sleep disturbance concurrently with posttraumatic stress offers a non-invasive treatment with the potential to improve mental health and wellbeing for the millions of children worldwide exposed to trauma, and augment treatment for posttraumatic stress, resulting in a quicker and sustained treatment response,” A/Prof Paterson says.

“These outcomes would have a significant impact on PTSD treatment in children and may extend to adult populations.”

A/Prof Paterson’s project is one of 31 health and medical research projects to share in $750,000 funding, to support exciting research projects across a variety of illnesses, diseases, and social issues, as part of Flinders Foundation’s Health Seed Grant Round in partnership with Flinders University.

Project title: Integrated treatment of posttraumatic stress and sleep disturbance in primary school aged children: A feasibility and initial proof of efficacy study

Lead researcher: Associate Professor Jessica Paterson


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