Getting a good night’s sleep could potentially save a young adult’s life

A study led by researchers in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson identified a link between sleep problems and suicidal thoughts and behaviors that may help reduce suicide risk in young adults.

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death among those aged 10-14 and 25-34, accounting for more than 9,000 deaths. Suicide was also the third leading cause of death among those aged 15-24, accounting for more than 6,000 deaths.

“Suicide is a difficult problem because it arises from complex interactions between many different factors. Disturbed sleep is one such factor,’ says the first author Andrew Tubbs, PhD, medical student researcher in the Department of Psychiatry’s Sleep and Health Research Program. “Our research shows that poor sleep is associated with suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and student deaths. However, unlike other suicide risk factors, poor sleep is not permanent. If students can sleep better, we might be able to reduce the risk of suicide.”

The article “Sleep Continuity, Timing, Quality, and Disorder Are Associated with Suicidal Thoughts and Suicide Attempts Among College Students,” was published in Journal of American College Health.

The study evaluated suicidal thoughts and behaviors among college students during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, from May 2020 to May 2021. Of the 885 undergraduate students enrolled in the study, 41% thought about suicide during their lifetime, of which half have had suicidal thoughts in the past three months. Eleven percent of students reported a suicide attempt in their lifetime, with 16% in the past three months.

Researchers then compared individuals with and without suicidal thoughts or previous suicide attempts on multiple sleep measures, including sleep duration, timing, insomnia, nightmares, sleep control and depressive symptoms.

“Key differences between people with suicidal thoughts and behaviors and those without included sleep time, efficiency, quality, perceived sleep control, clinical insomnia and clinical nightmares,” said the study’s senior author. Michael Grootner, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic and member of the BIO5 Institute. “These findings highlight how multiple sleep deprivations may contribute to suicide risk in this population.”

Taking steps to improve sleep health may help lower suicide risk, said Dr. Grandner. Research has shown that student sleep is mainly influenced by problematic nighttime use of technology and the inconsiderate use of cannabis to improve sleep. He recommends not using digital devices for at least an hour before going to bed and not consuming cannabis as a sleep aid.

“There are also evidence-based interventions that campus health centers can implement, including cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or imaginary exercise therapy for nightmares,” said Dr. Grandner. “Both have demonstrated efficacy in collegiate populations, and given the effect of poor sleep on academic performance, these are interventions worth pursuing.”

“The simplest thing to sleep better is to be consistent,” said Dr. Tubbs. “Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day so that your body learns to sleep at the same time. Even if you go to bed late or wake up in the middle of the night, stick to your schedule because you’ll find it easier to sleep the next night.

Getting a good night’s sleep could potentially save a young adult’s life

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