Can't Sleep Well? It May Be Hurting Your Mental Health

Having insomnia may cause you to think suicidal thoughts, according to science.


Trouble sleeping at night can do more than sap your energy the next day: It might give rise to dangerous thoughts in your mind, according to new research presented at SLEEP 2017, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

The researchers surveyed Army members on their mental health and sleep habits, breaking up insomnia into the following categories: overall insomnia, trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking up too early from sleep, and frequently waking up at night.

Related: Seeking Revenge Has Side-effects On Your Mental Health

They found that 13 percent of those who struggled with insomnia reported at least one type of suicidal ideation—thoughts of killing yourself, having a plan to commit suicide, intentions of killing yourself, wishing you were dead, or telling people you want to commit suicide. That’s compared to 2 percent of those who slept soundly.

Even adjusting for depression and anxiety—both of which play a role in suicidal thoughts—they found that people with insomnia were three times more likely to report thoughts of death or suicide within the past 30 days. 

Plus, it seems like how you struggle with insomnia plays a role, too: Frequently waking up throughout the night was the only type of insomnia that was associated with four out of the five types of suicidal ideation.

Related: Checking Your Email After Work Is Bad For Your Mental Health

The link may be due to something researcher Michael Perlis, Ph.D., calls the “sleep of reason hypothesis.” The risk of suicide is highest when someone lies awake at night, when their ability to reason, think, and control impulses are at the lowest, he explains in a news release. This can foster suicidal ideations in people who are already susceptible to it.

It’s not clear from this study if treating insomnia can reduce those thoughts. But if you find yourself having any of the thoughts listed above, it is highly recommended for you to seek professional help. 

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