Problems Sleeping Predicts Worsening Of Suicidal Symptoms In Study


In young adults, sleep difficulties may warn of worsening suicidal thoughts, according to researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that among young adults, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

“Suicide is the tragic outcome of psychiatric illness interacting with multiple biological, psychological and social risk factors,” said researcher Rebecca Bernert, Ph.D. “Sleep disturbances stand apart from other risk factors because they are visible as a warning sign, yet non-stigmatizing and highly treatable. This is why we believe they may represent an important treatment target in suicide prevention.”

The study gathered objective, and self-reported sleep characteristics of 50 participants aged 18 to 23. Each participant had recent thoughts of suicide, or a history of suicide attempts. For one week each wore a watch-like device that measured wrist movements. This device was earlier validated as a viable way of determining sleep-wake patterns, and generating sleep-related measurements.

Participants also answered questionnaires about suicidal thoughts, nightmares, insomnia, alcohol use, and depression at the study’s start, and then after seven, and 21 days.

The researchers found that falling asleep at various times each night was the most predictive factor for increased thoughts of suicide. Those who frequently fell asleep and woke up at a variety of times expressed more suicidal symptoms at the seven, and 21 day assessments. These individuals also reported more nightmares and insomnia, factors that independently predict more suicidal behaviors.

“Insomnia and nightmares beget more variability in when we are able to fall asleep on subsequent nights, which speaks to the way in which insomnia develops,” says Bernert. “We believe poor sleep may fail to provide an emotional respite during times of distress, impacting how we regulate our mood, and thereby lowering the threshold for suicidal behaviors.”

Currently, Bernert and colleagues are performing two suicide prevention studies, testing the effectiveness of brief, non-pharmaceutical insomnia interventions for suicidal symptoms.

Source: Stanford Medicine News Center
Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller


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