How Does Poor Sleep Affect Risk of Suicide? Interview with:
Donna Littlewood PhD
School of Health Sciences
Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health
The University of Manchester What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: This was the first qualitative study to examine the role of sleep problems in relation to suicidal thoughts and behaviours. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 participants, who all had experienced major depressive episode(s) and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

Data were analysed with thematic analysis which identified three interrelated pathways whereby sleep contributed to suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

The first was that being awake at night heightened the risks of suicidal thoughts and attempts, which in part was seen as a consequence of the lack of help or resources available at night.

Secondly, the research found that a prolonged failure to achieve a good night’s sleep made life harder for respondents, adding to depression, as well as increasing negative thinking, attention difficulties and inactivity.

Finally, participants said sleep acted as an alternative to suicide, providing an escape from their problems. However, the desire to use sleep as an avoidance tactic led to increased day time sleeping which in turn caused disturbed sleeping patterns – reinforcing the first two pathways. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: This research underscores the importance of restoring healthy sleep in relation to coping with mental health problems, suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

Furthermore, these findings suggests that night time service provision should be a key consideration within suicide prevention strategies, given that this study shows that those who are awake in the night are at an increased risk of suicide. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: It is important for future work to examine the extent to which the psychological processes identified by this research, account for the relationship between sleep problems and suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Additionally, further research is necessary to understand whether the pathways identified in this study extend to explain the association between suicide and specific types of sleep problems, e.g., nightmares. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Understanding the role of sleep in suicide risk: qualitative interview study
Donna L Littlewood, Patricia Gooding, Simon D Kyle, Daniel Pratt, Sarah Peters
BMJ Open 2016;6:8 e012113 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012113

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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