Postmigration stress and sleep disturbances mediate the relationship between trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress symptoms among Syrian and Iraqi refugees

July Lies, Laura Jobson, Luis Mascaro, Theoni Whyman, Sean P.A. Drummond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


STUDY OBJECTIVES: Sleep disturbance is common in those who experience trauma. In a sample of nontreatment-seeking refugees, we examined the associations between trauma exposure, postmigration stress, sleep symptoms, and posttraumatic psychological symptoms. METHODS: Syrian and Iraqi refugees (n = 86; 51% female; mean age = 45 years) residing in Australia were recruited from the local community. Cross-sectional descriptive design, multinominal regression analyses, and mediation analyses were used. Participants completed measures in Arabic assessing premigration trauma exposure, postmigration stress, sleep symptoms, and mental health. They also completed 7 days of sleep diaries and actigraphy. RESULTS: We identified 34.9% of the participants as normal sleepers, 32.6% as probably having insomnia, and 32.6% as likely having insomnia. Variables associated with greater sleep disturbance (McFadden's R² = 0.57) included greater trauma exposure, increased time of resettlement, greater postmigration stress, and greater presleep arousal. The association of premigration trauma exposure to current posttraumatic symptoms was mediated sequentially by postmigration stress and sleep symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings highlight the extent of sleep disturbance in refugees. We found evidence for an indirect pathway between trauma exposure and posttraumatic symptoms through premigration stress and sleep (particularly presleep arousal). In the current global refugee crisis, improving the existing system of care in countries experiencing increased migration is critical. Because sleep disturbance is a modifiable condition associated with mental health, targeting sleep could be an important component of psychological interventions for refugees.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-489
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Sleep Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • insomnia
  • posttraumatic stress
  • presleep arousal
  • refugees

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