A bad night’s sleep linked to suicidal thoughts the following day in people with depression

A new study on people with depression and suicidal thoughts indicates that poor sleep is related to suicidal thoughts. The findings appear in the journal Psychological Medicine.

“Suicidal thoughts result from a complex range of multiple different factors. In this research we chose to specifically look at the role of sleep disturbance, because it constitutes a ‘modifiable’’ risk factor for suicidal thoughts and attempts,” said study author Donna Littlewood of the University of Manchester.

“However, most of the research in this area has used cross-sectional, subjective measures which cannot speak to the temporal relationships between sleep disturbance and suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, both sleep and suicidal thoughts vary across short-periods of time. Therefore, we sought to examine the night-to-day, and day-to-night relationships between sleep disturbance and suicidal thoughts.”

In the study, 51 individuals wore actigraph watches that monitored total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and sleep latency for one week. They also kept a sleep diary and assessments of their suicidal thoughts.

The researchers found that short sleep duration and poor sleep quality both predicted higher severity of suicidal ideation on the following day, even after controlling for anxiety and depression symptom severity. “However, suicidal thoughts did not predict sleep problems the following night,” Littlewood noted.

The study, like all research, is limited. “This was an observational study of people who were currently experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. Therefore, these findings do not imply a causal relationship between sleep disturbance and the development of suicidal thoughts,” Littlewood explained.

The findings highlight the important role of sleep, especially among those experiencing suicidal ideation.

“Sleep is hugely important to our physical and mental wellbeing. During sleep our bodies recover from the physical and mental exertion of the day,” Littlewood told PsyPost.

“Sleep disturbance is common amongst people with mental health problems. However, sleep can be treated effectively using pharmacological treatments, and psychological interventions, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia. This study underscores that clinicians should provide treatment to improve sleep quality and sleep duration, when working with people who experience suicidal thoughts.”

The study, “Short sleep duration and poor sleep quality predict next-day suicidal ideation: an ecological momentary assessment study“, was authored by Donna L. Littlewood, Simon D. Kyle, Lesley-Anne Carter, Sarah Peters, Daniel Pratt, and Patricia Gooding.