While low-income young adults are known to be at high risk for sleep problems, sleep in foster care alumni has not been closely examined. These young adults face not only the challenges of poverty, but struggle with past maltreatment and removal from their family of origin, and frequently demonstrate mental health and substance use disorders.
The current study compares risk factors and sleep in a sample of foster care alumni and low-income young adults aged 18–24 (N = 185). Multiple regression analyses were calculated with foster care experience, maltreatment, trauma exposure, anxiety, depression, marijuana use, and alcohol use predicting three measures of sleep (total sleep hours, sleep onset latency, and number of nighttime awakenings).
Both groups reported similar rates of childhood maltreatment. Foster care alumni reported more trauma exposure, anxiety symptoms, and marijuana use than low-income young adults. They also showed significantly fewer sleep hours, a longer sleep onset latency, and more nighttime awakenings. Regression results revealed that a previous placement in foster care was related to all three sleep elements in the total sample, and a history of child maltreatment predicted fewer sleep hours. Anxiety and depression were associated with fewer sleep hours and anxiety was associated with more nighttime awakenings. Marijuana use was related to a shorter sleep onset latency and more nighttime awakenings.
Interventions to reduce sleep problems can improve other outcomes as well and may be viewed as less stigmatizing than efforts that directly target mental health or substance use.