If a person over the age of 65 has a difficult time sleeping, they may be more at risk for suicide attempts in the next 10 years than their counterparts who are able to sleep soundly. It is an area where the possible warning signs need to be examined more closely by physicians who care for those with a history of suicidal tendencies or with depression. Those who complain about their poor quality of sleep, insomnia, and nightmares that occur frequently, have a higher risk for attempting to die by their own hand, or actually succeeding in attempts to kill themselves.
Lack of sleep, even with depression factors accounted for, can be a catalyst for those who take their own life. It is also important to note the majority of people 65 or older have altered sleeping patterns and are not necessarily at risk for killing themselves. Close to 15,000 people were included in this study, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, and during this period, only 20 subjects died by their own hand.
Two factors were major considerations in this report: Sleep was not felt to be restorative, and falling asleep was a difficult obstacle among those who committed themselves to ending their lives. An interesting aspect of this stigma is the fact both suicide and depression are scorned in most societies and people are reluctant to talk about them, however, having difficulty sleeping is not. World-wide 57 percent of violent deaths are attributed to people killing themselves.
Depression is linked to difficulty in sleeping, and becomes a more likely risk factor for people to commit suicide. This particular study noted when depression was taken out of the equation, poor quality of sleep outweighed depression as a risk component. Those with difficultly sleeping have a compounded problem of emotional stress and physical stress, and may cause those with thoughts of ending their own lives to commit this act.
Reasoning abilities and maintaining a balanced emotional state are difficult problems for those with poor sleep, and these two factors enlarge the risk for suicidal tendencies. Not being able to sleep reduces a person’s skills for coping with stress, altering their judgement and thought processes. This study does not report poor sleep as a direct cause of people taking their own life, as there may have been other unknown factors, though it is believed poor sleep does play a part in people who intentionally take their own life.
Insomnia is a known risk factor for people killing themselves. Not being able to enjoy restful sleep combines with insomnia to cause a deviating pattern of thoughts concerning poor sleep ability that link to suicidal thoughts. Some people unable to obtain a sufficient amount of sleep became obsessed with the notion that a night of restful, restorative sleep was no longer within their grasp.
People with suicide on their minds who are unable to sleep properly believe there is no remedy or method for them to help themselves. It is known effective treatments are available including behavioral therapies and medications. With this knowledge, it is important for medical professionals to take positive action when someone reports an unexpected decline in sleeping properly and may threaten to commit suicide.
By Andy Towle