Suicidal Thoughts and Sleep Problems: A Deadly Combination

depressionHave you ever wondered what happens while you sleep? It’s simple really: your brain cells replenish, your body grows and your mental state resets for the day ahead. There are recommended hours of sleep for specific age groups for a reason. The younger you are the more your body needs to develop and therefore the more sleep you need. Ignoring your sleep, like most teenagers and young adults do, can impact your health in ways you probably haven’t thought about before.

There are various disorders that can affect your sleep like insomnia, sleep apnea and snoring but did you know sleeplessness can severely impact those suffering from depression? Depression on it’s own can be a debilitating illness. Couple that with sleeplessness and you’re facing a huge wall:

The link between sleep problems and suicidal thoughts and behaviors is made starkly clear in new research from The University of Manchester, published in the BMJ Open.

In this study, conducted by researchers from the University’s School of Health Sciences alongside the University of Oxford, 18 participants were interviewed about the role sleep problems have on suicidal tendencies.

Three inter-related pathways to suicidal thoughts were identified arising from sleep problems. 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, respondents 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.


If you or someone you know suffers from depression you are most likely painfully aware of how difficult it can be to lead a normal life. There are plenty of treatments available, with or without medication, that can make depression manageable. But it’s difficult to completely get rid of it. When your enemy is your own mind it’s very difficult to win the war.

When you can’t sleep, you can’t quiet your mind. The dark thoughts tend to plague you in the night when you’re defenseless. Human beings are not meant to be nocturnal. We’re meant to sleep in the night and be productive in the day. Failure to adhere to this causes disruptions in our sleep patterns and makes it difficult to function as a member of society.

That is not to say that those who work strictly at night aren’t productive. Those who work during the night tend to sleep during the day for the recommended number of hours they are supposed to be getting. That’s completely different than someone who sporadically sleeps during the day in order to recover from the loss of sleep during the night.

Those who suffer from depression need to make sure they are sleeping properly. It may help to keep a sleep journal and log the amount of time, and when, they are actually sleeping and take it to their health care provider. If their sleep is too fragmented their health care provider can suggest other ways to obtain a consistent amount of sleep. What is the underlying sleep problem? Does the patient suffer from sleep apnea or snoring? There are simple ways to manage those disorders. The more information you can bring in with you to a medical appointment the better your health care provider can help you.

Let’s all try to get the best sleep we can to keep the dark thoughts at bay.

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