Sleep a key in teen suicide prevention, according to recent sleep research

Disturbed sleep in teens at risk for suicide could signal worsening suicidal thoughts in the days and weeks ahead, according to researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California.

sleep disturbance and suicide in teensRebecca Bernert, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, led the study of 50 young adults between the ages of 10 and 23. Each had a history of suicide attempts or recent suicidal thoughts, notes a news release. They were asked questions at the beginning of the study, and then a week later and three weeks later about the severity of their symptoms, insomnia, nightmares, depression and alcohol use.

Researchers found going to bed and waking up at widely different times was the most prominent predictor in the increase in suicidal thoughts.

Those who had a lot of variation in when they fell asleep also reported more insomnia and nightmares, which are indicators of increased suicidal symptoms.

“Sleep is a barometer of our well-being and directly impacts how we feel the next day,” Bernert says. “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.”

While many factors lead to suicidal symptoms, sleep is one that makes sense to address, she says.

“Sleep disturbances stand apart from other risk factors because they are visible as a warning sign, yet nonstigmatizing and highly treatable,” Bernert says.

“This is why we believe they may represent an important treatment target in suicide prevention.”