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Sleep disturbances and suicide risk: A review of the literature

Authors Rebecca A Bernert, Thomas E Joiner

Published 15 January 2008 Volume 2007:3(6) Pages 735—743


Rebecca A Bernert, Thomas E Joiner

Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA

Abstract: A growing body of research indicates that sleep disturbances are associated with suicidal ideation and behaviors. This article (1) provides a critical review of the extant literature on sleep and suicidality and (2) addresses shared underlying neurobiological factors, biological and social zeitgebers, treatment implications, and future directions for research. Findings indicate that suicidal ideation and behaviors are closely associated with sleep complaints, and in some cases, this association exists above and beyond depression. Several cross-sectional investigations indicate a unique association between nightmares and suicidal ideation, whereas the relationship between insomnia and suicidality requires further study. Underlying neurobiological factors may, in part, account for the relationship between sleep and suicide. Serotonergic neurotransmission appears to play a critical role in both sleep and suicide. Finally, it remains unclear whether or not sleep-oriented interventions may reduce risk for suicidal behaviors. Unlike other suicide risk factors, sleep complaints may be particularly amenable to treatment. As a warning sign, disturbances in sleep may thus be especially useful to research and may serve as an important clinical target for future suicide intervention efforts.

Keywords: suicidality, sleep, nightmares, suicide risk factors

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