Disrupted Sleep May Increase Suicidal Ideation in Students

Treating Co-Morbid Sleep Problems with Psychiatric Disorders
Students who have sleep problems and have high stress have an elevated suicide risk.

TORONTO  —  Students that have sleep disorders as well as stress from academic pressures may be have an elevated risk of suicide, according to a study of high school students.

Stephen Woolley, DSc, MPH, with the Institute of Living and the Burlingame Center for Psychiatric Research and Education at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, examined results from the Independent School Health Check survey of more than 12,700 students and adolescents conducted by hospital researchers.

The survey showed that 11.2% had suicidal ideation, and 3.2% had suicidal thoughts and attempts. More than 20% said sleep patterns had interfered with their daily functioning. Other results from the study, presented by Woolley at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting, found that 30.1% felt academic pressure, 14.3% said they felt they did not belong in school, and nearly 29% said they felt bullied.

About 20% said they were sad or helpless, 25% reported feeling lonely and 17.5% said they were engaged in binge drinking.

After conducting an analysis of the data, Woolley found that students who reported having sleep difficulties were 2.5 to four times as likely to have suicidal ideation or attempts. For those students who said they felt they did not belong or did not have parental support, their rate of suicidal ideation was three to four times higher than peers who did not express such feelings.

“Our results suggest that interventions targeting sleep” may reduce suicidal ideation, Woolley said. He added that improvements may also come from the “uncoupling of causal pathways to these outcomes.”

Woolley noted that sleep can be mediated by stress, which can lead to suicidal behaviors.  

He added that there was also an association between students that took stimulant medication and an increased risk of suicide attempts.


Woolley S. Disordered Sleep and Stress Among Private High School Students: Independent and Combined Effects on Suicide Risk. Presented at: APA 2015. May 16-20, 2015; Toronto, Canada.