Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Highly variable sleep schedule increases risk for suicidal college students

A new study that’s the subject of a presentation at SLEEP 2010 is the first to show sleep schedules can predict an elevated suicide risk, independent of depression.

A sample of at-risk undergraduate students at the Florida State University had an average bedtime of 2:08 a.m. that varied by about three hours on any given night. They slept around 6.3 hours a night.

Sleep schedule variability was the only sleep measurement that predicted increases in suicidal risk when the students returned to the lab. Irregular sleep habits also predicted greater mood lability, which in turn predicts elevated suicidal symptoms.

The suicidal subjects visited a laboratory on campus three times during the duration of the study. The students underwent a series of tests at the start of the study, a week later and after three weeks.

Suicidal and depressive symptoms were assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory and the Beck Scale for Suicide. Sleep length and variability were obtained by wrist actigraphy. Mood lability was measured daily using scale mood ratings.

The lead author of the abstract, Rebecca Bernert, PhD, Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, suggests the findings could lead to new suicide intervention strategies.

“Compared to other suicide risk factors such as a past suicide attempt, disturbed sleep is modifiable, often visible and amenable to treatment,” she said. “In this way, the study of sleep may inform suicide risk assessment and represent a clinically unique opportunity for intervention.”

Learn more about this study during a presentation scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at SLEEP 2010.

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