Changes in sleep quality and levels of psychological distress during the adaptation to university: the role of childhood adversity

Neha John-Henderson, Sarah Williams, Ryan C. Brindle, Annie T. Ginty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
303 Downloads (Pure)


Stress-related sleep disturbances are common, and poor sleep quality can negatively affect health. Previous work indicates that early life adversity is associated with compromised sleep quality later in life, but it is unknown whether it predicts greater declines in sleep quality during stressful life transitions. We propose and test a conceptual model whereby individuals who reported experiencing greater levels of child maltreatment would experience greater psychological distress during a stressful life transition, which in turn would contribute to greater declines in sleep quality, relative to their quality of sleep before the stressful transition. Controlling for potential confounding variables (e.g., age, gender), structural equation modelling demonstrated that psychological distress experienced during a stressful transition (i.e. beginning life at university) mediated the relationship between childhood emotional neglect and changes in sleep quality. The hypothesized model demonstrated a good overall fit to the data, χ 2 (15) = 17.69, p = .279, CFI = .99, TLI = .97, SRMR = .04, RMSEA = .04 (90% CI < 0.001-0.09). Emotional neglect (β = .22) was positively associated with psychological distress which in turn was positively associated with poor sleep quality (β = .31) during a stressful transition. Future research should aim to understand the specific stressors in the university environment that are most challenging to individuals who faced early life emotional maltreatment. These findings will help inform interventions to facilitate adaptation to a new environment and improve sleep quality for these university students.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Early online date25 May 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 May 2018


  • childhood emotional maltreatment
  • sleep quality
  • psychological distress
  • university students


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