Suicide and Sleep Disorders: Mental Health Expert Reveals the Concerning Link

We have always had those days when we were irritable from lack of sleep; however, an extended period of poor sleep health could lead to far more significant effects than that.

Specific experts warn people who have chronic struggles with sleep are more likely to experience ideations of suicide.

Vice President and Chief Psychiatric Officer at CVS Health in Birmingham, Michigan, discusses this worrying link.

There is ‘no single cause’

Research indicates that 42% of Americans have been vocal about concerns about their mental health, with 18% saying they were plagued with thoughts of suicide at some point over the past year, according to Parsons. Suicide is complex, with numerous intersecting risk factors, he noted.

“There is no single cause of suicide — it is the convergence of health factors, along with other psychosocial and environmental variables, that can increase the chances someone may take their own life,” said Parsons. 

Parsons noted that these include environmental and social factors, financial and legal issues, and prolonged stress.

Past psychological and health issues — including substance use disorder, sleep, and depression — can also be significant factors.

“Some of these factors can be more challenging than others to address, but seeking help for sleep issues or disorders can be a step toward addressing one potential risk factor,” Parsons said.

Why can sleep issues increase the risk?

Parsons noted that poor sleep can negatively impact crucial functions like emotion regulation, decision-making, impulse control, resilience, and problem-solving abilities.

“When a person is struggling with sleep deprivation, it can increase various adverse health outcomes, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It can also lead to increased depression and anxiety, both of which can play a significant role in suicide,” Parsons said.

According to the expert, well-rested individuals are better equipped to face life’s challenges, maintain a positive mindset, and effectively manage stress.

According to Parsons, “Improved sleep can also reduce impulsivity and emotional dysregulation, both of which can be associated with suicidality.”

Some signs of sleep-induced suicidal tendencies

Individuals who have suicidal thoughts will often exhibit sudden behavioral changes, said Parsons. Those can include sleep issues like sleeping too much or insomnia.

“Similarly, we view withdrawal from friends and family, reckless actions, or increased use of substances as warning signs,” said Parsons. “So, focusing on the sudden or uncharacteristic change in sleep is the critical factor, not necessarily the number of nights.”

According to Parsons, recognizing everyday signs of sleep deficiency is critical to stopping it from interfering with an individual’s mental health.

He pointed out that when people are deprived of sleep, they often have problems with memory, concentration, decision-making, regulation of behavior and emotions, and problem-solving.

“Individuals who are not well-rested and may also have difficulty regulating their emotions are at increased risk of poor decision-making and have a negative ability to cope effectively when faced with overwhelming stress,” warned Parsons.

“If these problems come on suddenly, escalate, or become recurring, they may indicate more serious or underlying issues and indicate a mental health issue.” Experts recommend that adults receive seven to nine hours of nightly sleep.

Teens and children typically need more sleep than adults.

When should you seek support?

For people struggling with challenges with sleep, experts recommend seeking treatment if they are unable to manage the issue on their own.

“Many people unwittingly have habits that are detrimental to a good night’s sleep, and thus should start with a sleep hygiene program for several weeks,” suggested Parsons.

“If you notice someone is displaying warning signs of suicide, including sudden sleep issues, or other signs including mood changes or verbal cues, it is important to reach out, have an honest conversation, express concern, and help connect them to support,” said Parsons. Even if suicide is no longer a concern, the person might still feel supported, relieved, and comforted by someone taking the time to listen and connect.”

He emphasized it isn’t necessary for individuals to wait until they reach the crisis stage for support.

“There are resources available to help prioritize well-being; no matter where on the spectrum of mental health someone may fall,” explained Parsons. “The earlier someone connects to support and resources, the sooner they can feel better and increase their overall resilience.”

If someone is showing signs of suicidal ideation, it is critical they text or call 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.