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Idaho State University

New national study confirms sleep problems in adolescents are top risk factors for suicidal thoughts and attempts

August, 16, 2012

Researchers at Idaho State University and the University of Michigan have found in a larger, national study that sleep problems in adolescents are the top risk factor for suicidal thoughts and attempts in youths.

“Sleep problems appear to be a robust predictor of subsequent suicidal thoughts and attempts in adolescence and young adulthood,” said Maria Wong, Idaho State University professor and director of experimental training in psychology. “Having trouble falling sleeping or staying asleep had both direct and indirect effects, via depression and suicidal thoughts on suicidal behavior.”

Wong was the co-principal investigator along with Kirk Brower at the University of Michigan on a study titled “The prospective relationship between sleep problems and suicidal behavior in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the largest national study of adolescents in the U.S.,” which has been published electronically and in print in the Journal of Psychiatric Research this year.

“Future research could determine if early intervention with sleep disturbances reduces the risk for the likelihood of adolescents or young adults completing suicide,” Wong said.           These results are similar to the results of a smaller scale study that Wong completed and reported on in January 2011.

“We completed a study on a similar study last year. At that time I wanted to see if the same relationships existed in a national database,” Wong said. “What we found using the larger database was very similar to our previous study – independent of psychiatric illness, such as depression, and substance abuse, early insomnia symptoms were a risk factor for suicidal thoughts and attempts one year and five years later. Using the larger database gives us more confidence in reporting our results.”

Participants in the study were 6,504 adolescents and young adults who were in the publicly accessible database of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.  The database is a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents. It is the largest study on adolescents conducted in the United States. The study was designed to examine health-related behaviors, social contexts, and health-related outcomes in adolescents and young adults.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the 15-24 year-old age group, according to Wong.  For more information, contact her at (208) 380-2005