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Bergen Stress and Sleep Group, BSSG
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Life Threat and Sleep Disturbances in Adolescents

The study shows that many of the survivors developed long-term sleep disturbances after the terror attack on Utøya 2011. There was also a correlation between sleep disturbances and psychiatric diagnosis.

Trist ung mann som sitter med ryggen til på en benk i en park i skumringen
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The study is based on validated questionnaires for sleep disturbances in survivors after the terror attack at the youth camp on Utøya July 22nd, 2011. Two years following the attack 52.4% of Utøya survivors reported sleep problems while none of them reported sleep problems before the trauma. Among the age matched control group of adolescents who had not been on Utøya 13.6% reported sleep problems. The long-term sleep disturbances reported were insomnia, nightly awakening, pronounced sleepiness during the daytime, frequent nightmares and symptoms of respiratory disturbances during sleep.

The study also shows a correlation between sleep disturbances and mental health. There was a higher incidence of sleep disturbances among the survivors with a psychiatric diagnosis, both in comparison with survivors without a psychiatric diagnosis and the control group. Falling asleep at bedtime was especially difficult for survivors with a psychiatric diagnosis.

The knowledge we have today shows that treatment of sleep problems reduces both the risk of developing a mental disorder, relieves the symptoms of an ongoing mental disorder and improves daytime functioning (e.g. less tired / fatigued and better concentration, memory, school performance and social functioning). Nevertheless, sleep disorders are often considered as consequence of stress or mental illness, and are rarely treated separately.

Findings from this study emphasize the need of examining and treating sleep disorders in adolescents who have experienced trauma.