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    Insomnia Linked To Suicidal Thoughts

    By Margarita Nahapetyan

    Individuals with chronic sleep problems are at an increased risk of attempting to kill themselves, suggests a new report by U.S scientists. The more types of sleep disturbances a person has - such as waking up too early, at least 2 hours before the alarm goes on, difficulty to fall asleep or walking in the night - the more are the chances of suicidal thoughts, planning a suicide, or committing it, researchers reported at the World Psychiatric Association's international conference in Florence, Italy.

    About one out of 10 people have insomnia, said Dr. Alexandros N. Vgontzas, director of the Sleep Research and Treatment Center at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey. Previous studies have shown that people with insomnia have increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as greater activation of the sympathetic nervous system, and develop psychiatric problems such as anxiety and depression. Very often lack of sleep has been associated with depression and other mental disorders, but it has not often been studied as a possible reason for people feeling suicidal, the experts said.

    For the new study, a lead investigator, Dr. Marcin Wojnar, a research fellow at the University of Michigan and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Warsaw in Poland, and his colleagues, involved 5,692 American volunteers, both male and female. Of all the participants, a third - 35 per cent - said that they had at least one of the three sleep problems during the preceding year. These included either difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep or waking at least two hours earlier than desired. The authors took into consideration factors that have been know to trigger suicide risk, such as drug abuse, depression, mood disorders, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, stroke, gender, age, and financial and marital status. After all, they found that:

    People who woke up too early in the morning were twice more likely to develop suicidal thoughts in the preceding 12 months, compared to individuals with no sleep problems. They also were 2.1 times more likely to have planned suicide and 2.7 times more likely to have attempted to kill themselves.

    Those who found it hard to fall asleep were 5.1 times more likely to think about killing themselves, compared to those who did not report sleep problems. They were also 9.1 times more likely to have planned suicide and 7.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide within the past 12 months. And finally, people who kept waking in the night and took an hour or more to get back to sleep had a slightly increased risk of contemplating about suicide and attempting it.

    Scientists have associated sleep deprivation with an increased suicidal risk in people with psychiatric disorders and in adolescents but it is uncertain whether the link can be attributed to the general population, the researchers said. The experts say that it is not clear yet why lack of sleep raises the suicide risk, but they assume that it may make the brain work less efficiently, leading to poorer judgment, less impulse control and increased feelings of hopelessness.

    According to the World Health Organization, suicide is a huge problem worldwide, with an estimated of 877,000 people killing themselves every year. Mental-health experts at the U.N agency report that way more people - perhaps 10 to 40 times more - try to commit suicide than actually kill themselves.

    The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

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