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Insomnia, Despair about Sleep May Raise Risk of Suicide

Update Date: Feb 15, 2013 01:40 PM EST

Researchers have long known that insomnia and nightmares are risk factors for suicide, but they were not sure what role that the conditions precisely played. Now, researchers believe that they may have the answer. They found that insomnia can give way to a specific form of hopelessness. While hopelessness has also long been a characteristic risk factor for suicide, this despair is different. For people who fear that they will never have a good night of sleep again, suicidal thoughts may increase.

In fact, according to WJBF, people who have insomnia that persists for over a year have up to 30 times the risk of developing depression than people who do not. An estimated 60 percent of people who have depression also have insomnia.

The study was led by Dr. W. Vaughn McCall from Georgia Regents University, and was performed in collaboration with researchers from Wake Forest University in North Carolina and the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Dr. McCall explained in a statement that he has had patients who developed increasingly negative and unfounded thoughts about their sleep, thinking that they had damaged their immune systems for good, or that one night of bad sleep would mean that their sleep for the rest of the week would be tainted as well, according to Fox News.

The study was conducted with 50 participants, with ages ranging from 20 to 80. All of the patients had depression disorder; they were all either in-patients, out-patients or being treated at the emergency department. Over half of the patients had attempted suicide before the study; most were taking some kind of antidepressant. The researchers asked all of the participants questions linked to dysfunctional sleep behavior, like "Do you think that you will ever get a good night's rest again?"

The answers surprised the researchers. "It was this dysfunctional thinking, all these negative thoughts about sleep that was the mediating factor that explained why insomnia was linked to suicide," said Dr. McCall in a statement. "If you talk with depressed people, they really feel like they have failed at so many things. It goes something like, 'My marriage is a mess, I hate my job, I can't communicate with my kids, I can't even sleep.' There is a sense of failure and hopelessness that now runs from top to bottom and this is one more thing."

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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