The Role of Sleep in Suicide Risk

A recent study confirms sleep problems are associated with increased risk of suicide. The analysis provided by a group of researchers from Manchester University’s School of Health Sciences and academics from Oxford, gives narrative accounts of the role of sleep in relation to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

A qualitative study was carried out on 18 participants who are have experience of a major depressive episode, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Donna Littlewood from Manchester’s School of Health Sciences, also author of the study, said:

Our research underscores the importance of restoring healthy sleep in relation to coping with mental health problems, suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

After being interviewed about the impacts sleep disruptions had on suicidal tendencies, researchers gathered from the  respondents, three inter-related pathways that serve as distinct causes for suicidal thoughts when people had their sleep disrupted:

First, being awake during the biological night increased the risk of suicidal thoughts, which is perceived to be a chance for suicide attempt due to a lack of available support at night.

Secondly, inability to achieve good sleep was believed to make life harder, adding to respondents’ depression, such as negative thinking, attention difficulties and inactivity.

Lastly, sleep is believed to be an escape from mental health problems such as suicide. Respondents however explained that, this alternative to suicide is halted by excessive daytime sleeping – which reinforces the first two pathways.

Night time service provision should be a key consideration within suicide prevention strategies, given that this study shows that those who are awake in the night are at an increased risk of suicide,’ Donna said.

Donna L Littlewood et al. Understanding the role of sleep in suicide risk: qualitative interview study. BMJ Open 2016;6:e012113 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012113

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