EUGENE, Ore. — June 16, 2023 — Having a sleep disorder is linked to an increased risk of suicidal ideation in kids, teens and young adults, University of Oregon research finds.
The study, co-led by Melynda Casement, associate professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, was published June 16 in the journal Sleep Health.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for teenagers and young adults. Roughly one in five high school students has seriously considered suicide, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Casement and her collaborator Jason Carbone of Wayne State University looked at emergency department records for a nationally representative sample of youth ages 6 to 24. Youth who had a sleep disorder were three times more likely to present to an emergency department with suicidal thoughts than youth who did not, the researchers found.
The prevalence of diagnosed sleep disorders in the emergency room data sample was much lower than would be expected in the general population — just 0.38%, Casement noted. That suggest sleep disorders are underdiagnosed in emergency medicine.
The study found a correlation between sleep health and suicidal thoughts, not a causal link. But taken together with other research, the results suggest that sleep disorders could be a risk factor for suicidal ideation, even accounting for other mood and substance use disorders, according to Casement.
“People so often think of sleep disorders as being a symptom of other mental health problems like depression or anxiety,” Casement said. “But sleep problems can also contribute to anxiety, mood disorders, and suicide risk.”
Screening youth for sleep disorders when they show up in the ER could also provide an indication of suicide risk.
“Being aware of the impact of sleep disruption gives us an avenue to try to address sleep issues as well as downstream consequences,” Casement said. Suicide is still stigmatized in many communities; sleep is less so. Identifying and treating sleep disorders could improve mental health and reduce suicide risk even if people aren’t comfortable opening up about their mental health challenges.
“It gives us a wider range of inroads to tackle suicidal ideation and mental health — you can address the sleep problem and have good effects on mood and anxiety,” Casement said.
Casement recently launched a sleep lab on the UO campus, where her team is studying whether improving sleep quality can boost mental health in teens and young adults. Information about ongoing studies is available at https://sleepstudy.uoregon.edu.
— By Laurel Hamers, University Communications
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is the University of Oregon’s largest college and the intellectual hub of the university. The College of Arts and Sciences’ liberal arts programs in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities support the mission of the entire university and shape its identity as a comprehensive research institution. With more than 750 faculty members, the college offers more than 50 undergraduate majors, 70 minors, 42 master’s programs, and 26 doctoral programs to more than 10,000 undergraduate students and 1,285 master’s and PhD students.
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology