Researchers have established a connection between lack of sleep and depression. Now, there is growing evidence that sleep deprivation can trigger suicide.
Stanford University of Medicine studied 14,000 senior adults over a period of ten years. The results of this long-term study drew a troubling conclusion regarding suicide rates among the elderly population.
Published in JAMA Psychiatry, the findings of the study suggest that seniors who have difficulty getting proper sleep were much more likely to commit suicide than those individuals who reported having consistently good sleep and being well rested.
The startling conclusions of this study are cause for alarm for several reasons.
Primarily, thoughts of suicide have historically been considered a symptom of ongoing, chronic or severe depression. However, this research indicates that sleep alone may be a trigger for committing suicide.
While depression-related suicide factors are supported by the findings of this study, it also found that not all suicide victims over the age of 65 suffered from depression. In fact, the lead researcher, Dr. Rebecca Bernert, director of the Suicide Prevention Research Laboratory at Stanford University of Medicine, fears that a lack of quality sleep increases the risk of senior citizens committing suicide.
According to the research, poor sleeping patterns make an individual 1.4 times more likely to commit suicide. This indicates that improper sleep on its own is a singular risk factor for suicide, even for those with no signs of depression. In fact, the quality of a person’s sleep was a more accurate indicator of the risk of suicide, than were the symptoms of depression.
Sleep disorders in seniors are common and can be treated effectively with help from the medical community, which would substantially lower the risk of suicidal thoughts. However, since poor sleep has not been acknowledged as an individual risk factor until now, many medical professionals would not consider a person with sleeping problems to be vulnerable to suicide.
Uncovering the link between sleep disorders and suicidal risk in seniors is an important tool for assessing and preventing suicide among the aging population. If improper sleep is clearly recognized and accepted as an independent trigger, then early diagnosis and intervention will be possible.
The findings also noticed a higher incident rate of suicide in aging, white males, versus women in the same age category. However, it is not a conclusive result and Dr. Bernert’s team at Stanford is currently engaging in further research projects to examine the potential risk of sleep disorders and increased suicide rates in women and minorities as well as other age categories.