Sleep-deprived older adults have higher chances of death by suicide over the well-rested ones, revealed a recent study published by JAMA Psychiatry on Aug. 13.

Rebecca Bernert, PhD, of Stanford University School of Medicine, spearheaded the study titled “Association of Poor Subjective Sleep Quality With Risk for Death by Suicide During a 10-Year Period.”

“This is important because sleep disturbances are highly treatable, yet arguably less stigmatizing than many other suicide risk factors,” said Bernert, who is also a director at Stanford’s Suicide Prevention Research Laboratory and instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, in a statement.

The epidemiological study involved 14,456 adults who are 65 years old and above. Using data from such study, Bernert and her team compared the quality of sleep of 20 people who had suicide to the patterns of sleep of 400 individuals within 10 years.

Results showed that participants who reported having poor sleep have a higher chance of suicidal deaths by 1.4 times in a 10-year period as opposed to participants in the study who reported to have slept well.

Bernert said that older adults have extremely higher rates for suicide risk than other age brackets, hence making suicide prevention among the elderly a pressing challenge for public health.

The study similarly established the much talked about relationship between suicide and depression, as well as indicated poor quality of sleep as independent or standalone risk factor. Yet when depression and poor sleep risks were compared, the latter showed superior risk than depression. A blend of depressed mood and poor sleep was, however, the strongest suicide risk predictor.

Bernert said that suicide is a consequence of various often-interacting psychological, social and biological risk factors.

“Disturbed sleep stands apart as a risk factor and warning sign in that it may be undone, which highlights its importance as a screening tool and potential treatment target in suicide prevention,” she said.

Bernert said we can prevent suicide, except that interventions for it are scarce. Through two studies being conducted, she is now testing the efficiency of a treatment used for insomnia to prevent both suicidal behaviors and depression. Most suicide victims being studied were men of white race, a particular group said to be at increased suicidal risk among the general populace.

Bernert likewise said there’s a need for further research to determine if the connection between suicide risk and disturbed sleep also spreads to women, teenagers or younger adults and minorities.

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