Summary The objectives were to explore the association between self-reported adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and sleep in adults suffering from primary insomnia and to examine the impact of presleep stress on this relationship. Fifty-nine patients with primary insomnia, aged 21–55 years, were administered the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) and then divided into two groups according to the achieved scores: with moderate/severe or low/no reports of ACE. The participants spent three consecutive nights in the sleep laboratory in order to record polysomnographic and actigraphic sleep parameters. A stress induction technique was administered by activating negative autobiographical memories immediately before sleep in the second or third night. Results show that 46% of the insomniac patients reported moderate to severe ACE. This group exhibited a significantly greater number of awakenings and more movement arousals compared to patients with low or no reports of ACE. Actigraphic data also indicated more disturbed sleep and increased nocturnal activity for the high-ACE group. On the other hand, no specific group differences were found with regard to stress condition. The results support the assumption that it is possible to identify a subgroup among patients with primary insomnia who has experienced severe maltreatment in childhood and adolescence. This subgroup appears to differ in several sleep parameters, indicating a more disturbed sleep compared to primary insomniacs with low or no reports of ACE. With regard to sleep-disturbing nightly patterns of arousal, parallels between individuals with high ACE and trauma victims as well as post-traumatic stress disorder-patients suggest themselves.