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Insomnia Therapy Can Reduce Suicidal Thoughts in Veterans

A new study highlights the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy targeting insomnia among veterans.

Research findings show that suicidal ideation decreased by 33 percent after a maximum of six sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). Moreover, in addition to improving insomnia and reducing suicidal thoughts, CBT-I led to improvements in depression and quality of life.

“It was striking to see that the reduction in insomnia severity was associated with reduced suicidal ideation even after controlling for improvement in depression severity,” said co-lead author Bradley Karlin, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

“The results suggest that effective treatment of insomnia with CBT-I is an important target for reducing suicide risk among veterans and others at risk for suicide,” said Karlin.

According to Karlin, the wide-ranging effects of CBT-I that were found in the study were eye-opening.

The demonstrated improvements in quality of life suggests that focusing greater attention on detecting and treating insomnia could produce substantial public health benefits.

Study results are published in the journal Sleep.

“Chronic insomnia is especially common among veterans who have put their lives at risk in service to our country,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler.

“This study emphasizes that effectively treating insomnia can be life-changing and potentially life-saving for veterans who may be struggling with problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and posttraumatic stress disorder.”

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that about 10 percent of people have chronic insomnia disorder, which involves a sleep disturbance and associated daytime symptoms that have been present for at least three months.

About 15 to 20 percent of adults have short-term insomnia disorder, and more than half of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan report symptoms of insomnia.

In the current study, researchers followed 405 veterans with diagnosed insomnia disorder who received CBT-I in routine primary care and mental health treatment settings.

The majority of participants were men, and the mean patient age was 52 years. About 83 percent of veterans reported conflict experience, including 150 who served in Vietnam and 83 who served in Iraq or Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn.

The use of CBT to reduce insomnia among veterans represents a new strategy. Patients received CBT-I from therapists newly trained in the therapy as part of the national dissemination of CBT-I in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.

According to Karlin, CBT-I’s effectiveness and feasibility for implementation suggest that there is considerable opportunity for broad dissemination of CBT-I in other health care systems.

Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine/EurekAlert

Man sleeping photo available from Shutterstock

Insomnia Therapy Can Reduce Suicidal Thoughts in Veterans

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Insomnia Therapy Can Reduce Suicidal Thoughts in Veterans. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 3 Feb 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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