Sleep Duration as a Predictor of Moderate/High (vs Low) Suicide Risk in Insomnia eInterview with:

Linden Oliver, MA, Clinical Research Coordinator
University of Pennsylvania Behavioral Sleep Medicine Research Program Philadelphia, Pa What are the main findings of the study?

Answer: We found that less sleep is associated with greater suicide risk in those with insomnia. Specifically, we looked at suicide risk in people with insomnia, and also asked how much sleep they got in the past month. In those with some suicide risk, the likelihood of being high risk (versus low risk) decreased by 72% for every hour of sleep that person reported getting at night. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Answer:  It has been long established that insomnia is an important risk factor for mental health problems including depression, and insomnia has recently been identified as an important risk factor for suicidal thoughts specifically. Short sleep has also been identified as a risk factor for a number of health and other impairments.

It seems that the combination of both short sleep and insomnia may be worse than either one alone. This study not only supports that idea, it shows that insomnia and short sleep together are important to determine suicide risk. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Answer:  These results highlight the importance of sleep for our mental and physical well-being. Insomnia is a common disorder,  with about 1 in 3 Americans experiencing symptoms at any given time, and about 1 in 10 Americans probably meets criteria for an insomnia disorder that should be treated. Insomnia is an important medical condition that not only has implications for health, functioning during the day, and quality of well-being, but it may also lead to increased risk of suicide. Also, many Americans may not be getting enough sleep for optimal performance and health. And the combination of insomnia and short sleep time may be particularly detrimental to health and functioning. This study further supports this idea by showing that even within those who already have insomnia, suicide risk depends on how much sleep you are getting. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Answer: Forthcoming analyses of our clinical sample will explore whether sleep duration also distinguishes presence of suicide risk (low/medium/high) from no risk. Since our sample was drawn from larger studies controlling for a number of medical/psychological concerns, future studies might seek to replicate these findings in the other clinical samples such as people suffering from anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, HIV, or substance abuse.


Sleep Duration as a Predictor of Moderate/High (vs Low) Suicide Risk in Insomnia
Presented at SLEEP 2013 POSTER BOARD 267

The 27th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC

Press Release: Wednesday, May 15, 2013

More sleep may decrease the risk of suicide in people with insomnia

American Academy of Sleep Medicine


CONTACT: Lynn Celmer, 630-737-9700, ext. 9364, [email protected] 
 DARIEN, IL – A new study found a relationship between sleep duration and suicidal thoughts in people with insomnia.

Results show that every one-hour increase in sleep duration was associated with a 72 percent decrease in the likelihood of moderate or high suicide risk, in comparison with low risk. Data were adjusted for age, gender, race/ethnicity, education and age of onset of sleep difficulties.

“We were surprised by the strength of the association between sleep duration and suicide risk,” said primary author Linden Oliver, MA, clinical research coordinator for the University of Pennsylvania Behavioral Sleep Medicine Research Program in Philadelphia, Pa. “A 72 percent decrease in the likelihood of moderate or high suicide risk with a one-hour increase in sleep is interesting given the small sample size.”

The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal SLEEP, and Oliver will present the findings Tuesday, June 4, in Baltimore, Md., at SLEEP 2013, the 27th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC.

Data from two studies of insomnia were merged for the present analysis. Of the 471 total subjects, 73 indicated suicide risk using the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview; 55 were classified as low suicide risk and 18 were classified as moderate or high risk. Subjects without any suicide risk were excluded, as the parent studies were still enrolling subjects

According to the authors, sleep loss is associated with depression, executive dysfunction and poor decision making.  However, few studies have investigated the role of short sleep duration in suicidal ideation.

“These results further highlight the importance of obtaining adequate amounts of sleep,” said Oliver.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that about 10 to 15 percent of adults have an insomnia disorder with distress or daytime impairment.  According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for more than 38,000 deaths each year. 
For a copy of the abstract, “Sleep duration as a predictor of moderate/high (vs low) suicide risk in insomnia,” to schedule an interview with Ms. Oliver or an AASM spokesperson, or to register for a press pass to attend SLEEP 2013, please contact AASM Communications Coordinator Lynn Celmer at 630-737-9700, ext. 9364, or [email protected].

A joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, the annual SLEEP meeting brings together an international body of more than 5,500 leading clinicians and scientists in the fields of sleep medicine and sleep research. At SLEEP 2013 (, more than 1,300 research abstract presentations will showcase new findings that contribute to the understanding of sleep and the effective diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine considers sleep disorders an illness that has reached epidemic proportions.  Board-certified sleep medicine physicians in an AASM-accredited sleep center provide effective treatment.  AASM encourages patients to talk to their doctors about sleep problems or visit for a searchable directory of sleep centers.

Last Updated on March 19, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD