Older adults who suffer from sleep difficulties are at greater risk of dying from suicide than well-rested adults, according to new research at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The study confirmed the already established link between depression and suicide risk, while also investigating poor sleep as an independent risk factor.
“Our findings suggest that poor sleep quality may serve as a stand-alone risk factor for late-life suicide,” said lead author Rebecca Bernert, Ph.D., an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the Suicide Prevention Research Laboratory at Stanford.
“This is important because sleep disturbances are highly treatable, yet arguably less stigmatizing than many other suicide risk factors.”
In fact, while comparing the two risk factors (poor sleep and depression), poor sleep predicted risk for suicide even more than depression. The combination of poor sleep and depressed mood resulted in the greatest risk of suicide.
“Older adults have disproportionately higher rates of suicide risk compared to younger people,” said Bernert, “making suicide prevention in elderly populations an urgent public health challenge.”
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from an epidemiological study of 14,456 adults (ages 65 and older) and compared the sleep quality of 20 suicide victims with the sleep quality of 400 similar individuals during a 10-year period.
The findings revealed that, within a 10-year period, participants with dysfunctional sleeping patterns had a 1.4 times greater chance of death by suicide than well-rested people.
“Suicide is the outcome of multiple, often interacting biological, psychological, and social risk factors,” Bernert said. “Disturbed sleep stands apart as a risk factor and warning sign in that it may be undone, which highlights its importance as a screening tool and potential treatment target in suicide prevention.”
“Suicide is preventable,” she added. “Yet interventions for suicide prevention are alarmingly scarce.”
Bernert is also conducting two other research projects that are testing the effectiveness of an insomnia treatment for the prevention of depression and suicidal behaviors.
“Most of the suicide victims in the study were white men, a group that is also at heightened suicide risk in the general population,” Bernert said.
She also noted that further research is needed to see if the link between disturbed sleep and suicide risk extends to women, minorities, and younger adults or teens.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Source: Stanford Medicine