A new study identifies a link between sleep problems and suicidal thoughts, as well as behaviors that may help reduce suicide risk in young adults.

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

“Suicide is a difficult problem because it emerges from complex interactions between many, many different factors. Disrupted sleep is one such factor,” says Andrew Tubbs, a medical student researcher in the University of Arizona psychiatry department’s Sleep and Health Research Program.

“Our research shows poor sleep is linked with suicidal ideation, attempts, and deaths among college students. However, unlike other suicide risk factors, poor sleep isn’t permanent. If students can sleep better, maybe we can reduce suicide risk.”

The study evaluated suicidal thoughts and behaviors in college students during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, from May 2020 to May 2021. Of the 885 undergraduate students who participated in the study, 41% thought about suicide in their lifetime, with half experiencing suicidal ideation in the last three months.

Eleven percent of students reported a suicide attempt during their lifetime, with 16% of those attempts taking place in the last three months.

The researchers then compared individuals with and without suicidal ideation or prior suicide attempts on multiple measures of sleep including sleep duration, timing, insomnia, nightmares, sleep control, and depressive symptoms.

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

Read the full article about college students' suicide risk by Alexis Blue at Futurity.