Sleep Disorders After Abortion May Be A Symptom of Trauma

Abortion & Sleep Disorders

Sleep Disorders After Abortion May Be A Symptom of Trauma

Springfield, IL (December 11, 2008) — Earlier this month, millions of Americans lost an hour of sleep when we moved our clocks ahead. This is not the only reason why some people may not be sleeping well. Stress, being too busy, caring for a family, health problems, and other factors may all serve to disrupt sleep and leave us tired and unable to function well the next day.

For many women, a sleep disorder may be the result of something deeper: abortion-related trauma. A 2006 study published in Sleep, the official journal of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, found that women who experienced abortion were more likely to be treated for sleep disorders or disturbances compared to women who gave birth.1

The researchers examined medical records for 56,284 low-income women in California who gave birth or underwent an abortion in the first six months of 1989. They excluded women who had been treated for sleep disturbances or disorders in the 12 to 18 months prior to abortion or delivery.

The data showed that, up to four years later, women who underwent abortions were more likely to be treated for sleep disorders afterwards compared to those who gave birth. The difference was greatest during the first 180 days after the end of the pregnancy, when aborting women were approximately twice as likely to seek treatment for sleep disorders. Significant differences between aborting and child-bearing women persisted for three years.

Sleep Disorders Linked to Trauma

More research is needed to to see if women who have abortions are more likely to experience specific symptoms of sleep disturbance and whether those symptoms could be markers for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other problems.

Numerous studies have shown that trauma victims will often experience sleep difficulties. The authors believe their findings support a growing understanding that some women may have traumatic reactions to abortion. In a 2004 study of American and Russian women who had abortions:

  • 65% of American women reported multiple symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which they linked to their abortions,

  • Over 14% reported all the symptoms necessary for a clinical diagnosis of abortion-induced PTSD,

  • 30% reported nightmares, and

  • 23% reported sleeping disorders that they attributed to their abortions.2

In the book Forbidden Grief, author and therapist Dr. Theresa Burke notes that nightmares and insomnia a commonly reported among women after abortion. She writes: “When the conscious mind sleeps, the defense mechanisms in charge of repelling unwanted thoughts are relaxed. This is why intrusive thoughts related to a suppressed trauma often arise in the form of dreams or nightmares.”3

Other studies have found that women with a history of abortion are subsequently at increased risk for depression, generalized anxiety disorder, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies, psychiatric hospitalization, and other problems.

This research points to a need for health care providers to regularly inquire about prior pregnancy loss, as identification of unresolved grief issues may improve treatment of sleep disorders, anxiety, and other psychiatric problems linked to abortion.


1. DC Reardon and PK Coleman, “Relative Treatment Rates for Sleep Disorders and Sleep Disturbances Following Abortion and Childbirth: A Prospective Record Based-Study,” Sleep 29(1):105-106, 2006.

2. VM Rue et. al., “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women,” Medical Science Monitor 10:SR5-16, 2004.

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