Poor Sleep Increases Baby Boomers’ Risk of Suicide

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There are many biological, sociological, and psychological risk factors that can increase an individual’s risk for committing suicide. But did you know that poor sleep could be a major factor pushing people over the edge, even if they aren’t depressed?
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The news of Robin Williams’s suicide has brought mental health into the spotlight this week.

According to data from the Massachusetts Violent Death Reporting System at the department of public health, the number of deaths per year as a result of suicide in the state has increased 4 percent per year since 2003. The rate increased from 424 suicides in 2003 to a peak of 600 in 2010, before dropping back down to 588. That’s 8.9 suicides per 100,000, a total of 4,500 deaths for this preventable public health problem.

There are many biological, sociological, and psychological risk factors that can increase an individual’s risk for committing suicide. But did you know that poor sleep could be a major factor pushing people over the edge, even if they aren’t depressed? We all know the feeling that when we’re under slept, we aren’t quite ourselves, but according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, sleep complaints are actually one of the top 10 warning signs for suicide.

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A study published today in JAMA Psychiatry is the first research of its kind to draw a correlation between poor sleep habits and an increased risk for death by suicide by controlling for signs of depression.

Stanford University School of Medicine researchers have found that over a 10 year observation period, people with poor sleep quality and no other depressive symptoms demonstrated a 1.2 times greater risk for death by suicide.

The team, lead by Dr. Rebecca A. Bernert, monitored 420 older adults (average age of 75) over the course of 10 years. Older adults are more likely to have sleep complaints and a higher rate of suicide. Twenty of the participants did end up killing themselves during the observation period.

In Massachusetts, the age group with the highest rate of suicides for both men and women is age 45 to 54 years old, representing 26 percent of total suicides, an age group where the rate increased in the state by an average of 6.4 percent per year. The rate of suicide among males at 45 to 54 years old was 22.9 suicides per 100,000, compared to 8.1 per 100,000 for females that age. The state’s male suicide rate exceeds females’ 3-to-1. All of these statistics mirror national trends.

Using the Sleep Quality Index (SQI), researchers found that difficulty falling asleep and non-restorative sleep were the two primary complaints associated with the increased risk for suicide. Even without signs of depression, researchers found that people with disturbed sleep correlated with “considerable risk” for severe suicidal behaviors.

“We suggest that poor subjective sleep quality may therefore represent a useful screening tool and a novel therapeutic target for suicide prevention in late life,” wrote the study authors.

Talk to your friends and loved ones, especially older adults, about their sleeping habits, and look out for the other top 10 warning signs for suicide from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This preventable public health issue takes 1 million lives every year and kills 100 Americans every day.

Top 10 warning signs for suicide:

- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.

- Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.

- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

- Talking about being a burden to others.

- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.

- Sleeping too little or too much.

- Withdrawing or feeling isolated.

- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

- Displaying extreme mood swings.

Talk to someone if you’re feeling sad.