Sleep problems or lack of sleep can lead to suicidal tendencies in young adults, according to a report presented today by Stanford University.
The report notes that treating sleep-related problems can alleviate suicidal behavior, the second-leading cause of death among young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Suicide is the tragic result of psychiatric illnesses that interact with multiple biological, psychological and social risk factors,” said Rebecca Bernert, Stanford Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and lead author of the report.
“Sleep disturbances differ from other risk factors because they are visible as a warning signal, although they do not stigmatize and are highly treatable,” Bernert emphasized.
Published in the journal, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the report provides an important light for the treatment of this problem, which killed about 44,000 Americans in 2016, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The research collected both objective and reported information from participants of 50 adults aged 18 to 23 years and high risk of suicide, selected from a research base of about 5,000 university students.
Study participants’ sleep was observed objectively for a week during which they used a special sensor on their wrist – validated for sleep measurements – to determine whether they slept or were awake and trying to sleep.
Both at the beginning of the study as 7 and 21 days later, participants completed questionnaires designed to measure the severity of their suicidal symptoms, insomnia, nightmares, depression and alcohol consumption.
Those who had a greater degree of variation from the time they fell asleep at night as well as from the time they woke up showed a greater tendency to experience suicidal symptoms at the seven and 21 day reviews.
Also those who reported more hours of insomnia and nightmares showed higher suicidal tendencies.
“Sleep disorders and suicidal thoughts are both symptoms of depression, so it is critical to unravel these relationships and assess the factors that stand out to predict risk,” Bernert noted.
“We believe that the study of sleep disturbances may represent an important opportunity for the prevention of suicide,” he said.