New Study Finds Poor Sleep May Worsen Suicidal Thoughts

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New Study Finds Poor Sleep May Worsen Suicidal Thoughts
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For more than a century, medical experts have been studying the relationship between disturbed sleep, mental disorders, and suicide. Almost 75 percent of clinically depressed people struggle with sleep, according to a 2008 study published in the medical journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. The study explored the mechanisms of sleep regulation and their influence on depression. [1]

Poor sleep is a well-known risk factor for suicide, regardless of cultures or age groups. This has been proven once again by a new study conducted by researchers from Stanford University Medical School. The research highlights the importance of sleep problems in providing clues about the psychological state of at-risk young adults. It also underscored the need to treat insomnia to help improve the emotional well-being of individuals. [2]

First published online on June 28, 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the study linked insomnia and nightmare with students who experience significant variation in how long it takes them to fell asleep. It also posited both the above sleep problems as predictors of suicidal behaviors. It stressed the importance of awareness of the relationship between sleep disturbances and suicidal ideation.

Researchers focused on fifty university students aged 18 to 23. They monitored the sleep of the students who all had a history of suicide attempts or recent thoughts of suicide or suicide ideation. As the study progressed, the researchers observed the worsening suicidal thoughts of students who had sleep problems.

The association between sleep problems and increased risk of suicidal thoughts persisted even if other factors were considered including the level of depression, alcohol, and drug use. According to lead author and suicidologist Rebecca Bernert, there are underlying biological, psychological and social risk factors that interact with suicide. Bernert and colleagues insisted that they could use sleep disturbances as an important treatment target in suicide prevention.

Bernert is one of the leading researchers in neuropsychiatric disorders. In 2007, she co-authored a study on the relationship between sleep disturbances and suicidal ideation and behaviors. This study also posited the value of disturbances in sleep as a clinical target for future suicide intervention efforts. [3]

The possible role of sleep disturbance in suicidal behavior is a widely-explored topic in the medical community. Several other sleep studies have correlated the subjective quality of sleep with suicidal patients. A 2014 study reported in Annals of Clinical Psychiatry attributed the possible association between suicide and sleep to serotonin, which was found to be low in patients who attempted suicide or completed suicide. [4] Serotonin is a chemical produced by the body that works as a neurotransmitter.

Back in 2013, another study forwarded the link between insomnia and a very specific type of hopelessness which is a powerful predictor of suicide. This work raised a red flag about suicide risk and advised physicians to determine if their patients who are experiencing increased sleep problems are having suicidal thoughts. [5]

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that one in three American adults is not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. The health agency advises adults aged 18-60 years old to sleep at least seven hours each night to avoid increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and mental distress. [6]

Further Reading:

7 Serious Dangers Of Sleep Deprivation Plus 5 Natural Tips For Better Sleep


[1] Nutt D et al. September 2008. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression.

[2] Robert Preidt. June 28, 2017. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Poor Sleep May Worsen Suicidal Thoughts.

[3] Rebecca A. Bernert and Thomas E. Joiner. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. Sleep disturbances and suicide risk: A review of the literature.

[4] Ravi Kumar Singareddy and Richard Balon. December 4, 2011. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry. Sleep and Suicide in Psychiatric Patients.

[5] McCall WV et al. 2013. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Nightmares and dysfunctional beliefs about sleep mediate the effect of insomnia symptoms on suicidal ideation.

[6] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep.

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