Save your life, get a good night’s sleep


Jonathan Bonilla Leon

A recent study by University of Arizona medical students and affiliates revealed a correlation between sleep patterns and suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Annabel Lecky

University of Arizona medical students and affiliates conducted a study on the correlation between sleep patterns and suicidal thoughts and attempts, and the relation is apparent.

If there’s one thing college students are notorious for lacking, it’s adequate sleep.

The need for sleep is regularly preached as beneficial for day-to-day energy levels, mood and general physical health, and while these are all relevant, lack of sleep’s effect on long-term mental health is of dire concern amidst a national youth mental health crisis.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults.

Andrew Tubbs, a medical student researcher in the Department of Psychiatry’s Sleep and Health Research Program, was the lead researcher in the UA study connecting sleep and suicidal thoughts and attempts.

“My goal was to look at a lot of different sleep components all at the same time and say, ‘okay, which are the ones that are most relevant for suicide risk in this age group in this demographic,’” Tubbs said.

Tubbs recruited mostly undergraduate students to complete a number of different questionnaires and measures about sleep and suicide specifically, but also general mental health such as students’ experiences in the past with depression and anxiety.

According to the study that was published in the Journal of American College Health, out of the 885 participants, “363 (41.0%) reported lifetime suicidal ideation, of whom 172 (47.4%) reported suicidal ideation in the last 3 months and 97 (26.7%) had attempted suicide in their lifetime. Sleep disturbances were prevalent among those with lifetime suicidal ideation or a lifetime suicide attempt.”

“Insomnia is related to suicide, nightmares are related to suicide,” Tubbs said. “Poor quality of sleep and loss of control over sleep, which is when people feel like they don’t have any control over when they sleep or how well they sleep, that’s associated with increased risk for suicidal ideation as well.”

Tubbs also mentioned that in a related study the researchers conducted, they concluded switching sleep schedules between weekdays and weekends is associated with self-harm behaviors.

“We call that social jetlag, and that’s kind of like flying to China and back every weekend. It takes a real number on college students,” Tubbs said.

Maintaining a consistent schedule can help college students feel as if they have some control over their sleep habits. Tubbs also suggests not compensating for a bad night of sleep by oversleeping the next day.

Raegan Winder is the health and wellness graduate assistant for the Hunter White Health and Wellness in Greek Life course. Winder stressed the importance of sleep to her students and gave them tips for maintaining a balanced schedule.

Oftentimes, students who get good hours of consistent sleep “have better performance overall as a student in class, their grades go up and they are more involved in their activities,” said Winder.

Relating specifically to mental health, Winder suggested to her students that when considering struggles they are having, like recurring anxiety, getting more adequate sleep is a really good first step in treating some of those issues.

“We talk about setting that schedule and making it work for their lifestyle,” Winder said. “And then just the value of creating a bedtime routine, making it fun and enjoyable so that you want to go to sleep.”

Winder also suggested avoiding blue light exposure and caffeine before bed.

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