Insomnia and disturbed sleep are common among people with depression and other mental health problems. Research indicates that people with depression are significantly more likely to experience insomnia symptoms. Insomnia also has been linked to an elevated risk for suicide. A recent study offers new details about the relationship between insomnia and suicidal thoughts among people with depression.
Researchers at Georgia Regents University examined the possible influence of insomnia and disturbed sleep among patients with a history of depression and suicide. Their analysis revealed that the connection between insomnia and suicidal thoughts may be influenced by nightmares, and also by the presence of negative attitudes and beliefs about sleep in patients who are suffering from depression.
Their study included 50 patients between the ages 20-84. All had received treatment for depression either as inpatients or outpatients, or in the emergency room. Seventy-two percent of the participants were women, and a majority—56%--had attempted suicide at least once. Researchers measured levels of depression and insomnia, feelings of hopelessness, as well as the presence and severity of nightmares and attitudes and beliefs about sleep.
This is important new information in our understanding of the link between insomnia and suicide. The presence of these symptoms—nightmares and feelings of hopelessness about sleep—may be a more specific predictor of suicide risk among people with depression than insomnia in general.
Earlier work by some of the same researchers explored the relationship between insomnia and suicide. Their study included 60 patients between the ages 18-70. Two thirds were women, and all suffered from major depression and insomnia symptoms. Researchers found that the severity of insomnia among these patients was linked to degree of suicidal thoughts. More severe insomnia was associated with higher intensity of suicidal thoughts. In their analysis, researchers isolated insomnia from other symptoms of depression, such as low mood and inability to experience pleasure. They determined that insomnia is an independent predictor of suicidal thinking. This latest study built on those findings, looking with greater depth and specificity at how insomnia and related attitudes and behaviors of disrupted sleep may influence suicidal thoughts.
Other research has shown a strong association between insomnia and disrupted sleep and suicide for people with depression and other psychiatric disorders:
Understanding how insomnia and other sleep problems contribute to hopelessness and thoughts of suicide can provide important new options for suicide prevention and treatment of depression and suicidal thoughts. By identifying nightmares and dysfunctional, negative attitudes about sleep as important predictors of suicidal thinking in people with depression, we may be better able to identify those who are at greater risk for self-harm.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™