Poor sleep and the risks associated with suicide

This time of year many of us are enjoying time with friends and family. That doesn’t mean everyone is feeling the love.

Today I read an article which really made me stop and think about those not having such a great time.

The article in Psychology Today made interesting reading and links to other blogs we have written around the negative affects of poor sleep…

The link between poor sleep and suicide is one not to be ignored

With high profile deaths this year such as Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain the topic of suicide is in the news and somehting that should be talked about. The Centres for Disease Control released a report with some alarming details, between 1999 and 2016 suicide rates in the US rose by almost 30%.

While here in the UK and Republic of Ireland there were 6,213 suicides in 2017 according to the Samaritans.



Sleep, depression and suicide risk

We often read about the impact of sleep on mental and emotional health. Lack of a good nights sleep is often both a symptom of depression and anxiety in addition to being a contributor. 

As many as 75% of people with depression also suffer with insomnia. Younger adults with depression can also sleep too much. Hypersomnia also occurs in older adults with depression but is more prevalent in those under 30.

A great deal of scientific research has explored the role of sleep as a factor in suicide and depression. Over the past 30 years research in the US shows that people with depression and the presence of sleep problems are more likely to have suicidal thoughts. These studies show:

Poor sleep is linked to suicidal behaviour in people with depression

Both insomnia and hypersomnia significantly raise the risk for suicide in people with depression

Nightmares are more common in people with depression who are also suicidal. 


Depression isn’t the only mental health condition where sleep plays an important role and where suicide is a heightened risk. Anxiety, substance abuse and other conditions such as PTSD are all affected by sleep and put people at greater risk. In people with mental health conditions changes to sleep patterns or increased complaints about sleep issues must be taken seriously and addressed.


Sleep as an independent risk factor for suicide

Whilst mental health conditions are often a contributing factor to suicide they are not always recognised. In research by the CDC a study found that 54% of people who died from suicide did not have a known mental health condition. Some possibly had a undiagnosed mental health issue and so it is important to know that suicide does not only happen among people with mental illness.

One of the challenges in understanding the relationship between sleep and suicidal behaviour comes in separating depression from the equation. Increasingly, there is evidence showing that disrupted sleep may have a direct influence over suicidal behaviour and the risk of suicide, apart from it’s connection to depression.

Research shows that sleep disturbances, specifically insomnia and nightmares increase risks for suicidal thoughts and actions, and that those risks are not attributable to depression. ( That doesn’t mean depression doesn’t affect suicide risk. It does. But these studies show that when scientists factor out the impact of depression on suicide, sleep issues on their own elevate the risk)


Nightmares appear to have a strong connection with suicidal behaviour Research tells us that nightmares are common among people who are contemplating suicide.The longer sleep problems, like nightmares go on, the greater risk that suicidal behaviour may develop, according to research.

Insomnia and nightmares are two of the sleep problems most frequently linked to increased risk for suicidal behaviour. However, there is emerging evidence that other sleep problems and sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea may also contribute to elevating suicide risk. There is an urgent need for more research into the independent effects of sleep on suicide.


NOTE: Occasional nightmares are not uncommon and millions of people suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea or struggle with periods of poor sleep quality. Not everyone who experiences these sleep problems are at high risk of suicide. That said all sleep issues should be taken seriously and deserve attention.

Poor sleep quality, especially when chronic can have negative effects on our ability to process emotions, to make judgements and problem solve. Thinking clearly can be a struggle. Sleep problems can also deeply affect how we perceive our surroundings and how we function and feel within relationships.


Poor sleep can make us:

More emotionally reactive

More inclined to have negative emotions

More vulnerable to stress and the effects on our well being

Agitated and restless

Less able to cope and have good judgement

Less physically and mentally resilient

Less trusting and more suspicious


Looking at this list it’s not hard to see how sleep may join other factors in contributing to the emotional exhaustion that is often present in those who are at greater risk of suicide.


What to watch for:

Mood swings

Excessive sadness and or anger

Talk of pain and anguish (mental or physical)

Talk of being a burden

Withdrawal from social relationships

Trauma - personal loss, financial worries, major life changes, job loss, separation and divorce

Lack of interest in appearance

Increased drug or alcohol use

Risky behaviours - drink, drug, sexual..

Signs of preparation - giving away possessions, tying up lose ends..

Sudden calmness after a period of emotional upheaval or mode swings

Anxiety or hopelessness about an ability to sleep


Not all people who are suicidal will speak about it, or make threats. Any threat or talk of suicide should always be taken seriously and given immediate professional attention.


Suicide is not typically the result on one single issue but rather a combination of more complex issues the effect an individuals life. 


Sleep reaches out to affect every aspect of life, health and our ability to cope with the challenges life throws at us. 


If you are or know of anyone who is having thoughts of suicide YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Please speak to someone immediately. There are professionals there to support you and you’d be surprised how much understanding friends and family will have 


I’ve attached the link for the latest Samaritans information 2018