Insomnia Linked to Suicide
> 6/14/2007 3:17:32 PM

Staying up all night isn’t much fun the next morning. Over the long run, sleep-debt can charge high interest on everything from memory to mood. Through diligent work, researchers have been able to identify very specific health risks for missing sleep. We recently covered the damage that sleep-debt causes the heart . Science Daily ran an article today about the link between insomnia and suicide. This is an important finding, because even if insomnia does not turn out to be a cause of suicide, it can still serve as a crucial indicator for families and professionals to monitor before it is too late.

Science Daily discusses a paper on elderly suicide presented today by Rebecca Bernert at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies meeting, but fails to accurately portray the long evolution and current specificity of the research because it presents it as new and without precedent. As early as 2002, studies have pointed to the link between sleep problems and suicide. The complication is that depression both interferes with sleep and leads to suicide, making it difficult to determine whether sleep interruption has any risks by itself. Relying on a large pool of information collected for the Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly, Dr. Bernet statistically isolated sleep problems and did manage to find a correlation. She did not stop at the general “get more sleep” advice of some previous researchers. Further investigation found that it was only nightmares that could be significantly correlated to suicide. Even more precisely, nightmares posed the strongest risk factor for females. While this sex difference is not fully understood, the specificity of this research is very helpful. 

Parallel studies on teenagers suggest that sleep problems also pose a threat for younger demographics. The 2006 study Sleep and Youth Suicide Behavior used a statistical method similar to Dr. Bernert’s to single out sleep interruption amongst all the effects of depression.

Further research may find even more widespread risks of sleep problems, but the specific discoveries of Dr. Bernert can be put to immediate use. The nightmares awakening your grandmother at night may have very serious consequences in the waking world. Hopefully this warning sign will now be recognized more often.


For my money, I would bet that the inability to sleep may cause suicide attempts. As a person with OCD, I've been in a situation in my life where I could not stop thinking about something for several days even long enough to sleep. The only thing I wanted to do was to be able to stop thinking and sleep. I was very afraid at that point about the possibility that I would commit suicide. In an unrelated incident, my grandfather committed suicide in the middle of the night about two years ago.
Posted by: OCD On A Stick 6/15/2007 9:53:24 AM

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