UA Researcher Says Intimate Partner Violence Compromises Sleep, Overall Health

Study co-authored by University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson sleep expert Michael Grandner, PhD, explores the effects of intimate partner violence on sleep.

Being threatened or physically harmed by an intimate partner is known to affect a person’s physical and mental health, but, until now, there has been little information regarding how intimate partner violence (IPV) affects that person’s ability to maintain healthful sleep habits.

A study recently published online in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence shows the significant degree to which the experience of IPV is related to a person’s sleep, and how that relationship to sleep may explain why it also takes a serious toll on a person’s overall health.

Dr. Michael GrandnerUniversity of Arizona sleep and health researcher Michael Grandner, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, is senior author of the study, which was conducted when he was an instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and a member of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The study used data from the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Grandner and his colleagues report that:

  • Individuals who have been threatened, physically harmed or forced to have sex by an intimate partner are about three times as likely to have sleep problems as people who have not experienced IPV.
  • Within the first year of an IPV experience, the victim is as much as eight times more likely to suffer sleep disturbance.
  • There is little difference between men and women in terms of how much sleep disturbance they experience following IPV.
  • As much as 40 percent of the mental and physical health problems that develop following an IPV experience may be explained by the degree to which the individual is experiencing sleep problems.

The CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reports that 35.6 percent of women and 28.5 percent of men – out of 16,500 surveyed – had experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner.

“Although there has been a lot of data accumulated over the years on the many ways that stress – especially traumatic stress – can interfere with sleep,” says Dr. Grandner, “there is remarkably little in this field focusing on IPV. This is especially relevant, because unlike other stressful events, IPV may lead to the bedroom itself, being a profound trigger for a stressful response.”

The study holds an important message for physicians and others who care for people who have experienced threats or violence from an intimate partner, Dr. Grandner said. “When we treat a person who has experienced IPV we should keep an eye out for sleep problems and address them when they occur.”

In addition to Dr. Grandner, study contributors included lead author Linden Lalley-Chareczko, MA, research assistant with the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, University of Pennsylvania, and research coordinator, Philadelphia FIGHT Community Health Centers; Michael L. Perlis. PhD, and Andrea Segal, MS, University of Pennsylvania; Sara Nowakowski, PhD, University of Texas Medical Branch; and Joshua Z. Tal, Palo Alto University.