Results of a recent study found that the more types of sleep disturbances a person has, the more likely they are to have thoughts of killing themselves, engage in planning a suicidal act, or make a suicide attempt.

In the study, scientists examined the relationship between three characteristics of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking at least 2 hours earlier than desired) and the three previously mentioned suicidal behaviors in 5,692 Americans. People with two or more symptoms of insomnia were 2.6 times more likely to report a suicide attempt than those without any insomnia complaints.

“Identifying those at high risk of suicide is important for preventing it, and these findings indicate that insomnia may be a modifiable risk factor for suicide in the general population,” says lead researcher Marcin Wojnar, MD, PhD, a research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan.

Early morning awakening had the most consistent link as it was related to all three suicidal behaviors. People reporting early morning awakening were twice as likely to have had suicidal thoughts in the preceding 12 months, 2.1 times more likely to have planned suicide, and 2.7 times more likely to have tried to kill themselves compared to those with no sleep problems.

“This has implications for public health as the presence of sleep problems should alert doctors to assess such patients for a heightened risk of suicide even if they don’t have a psychiatric condition. Our findings also raise the possibility that addressing sleep problems could reduce the risk of suicidal behavior,” says Wojnar.

The researchers adjusted results for several factors known to influence suicide, including substance abuse, depression, mood disorders, and chronic medical conditions. Findings were presented at the World Psychiatric Association’s 2009 international congress.

Related articles:
Lack of Sleep Linked to Elderly Suicide
US FDA probes suicide risk with Merck’s Singulair