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Study: Poor Sleep Linked with Higher Suicide Risk in Elderly

suicideOlder adults who experience difficulty sleeping are 1.4 times more likely to commit suicide over a 10-year period, according to a new study published in the Journal of American Medicine Association.

The Huffington Post reports that a team of researchers led by Dr. Rebecca A. Bernert, director of Stanford University’s Suicide Prevention Research Laboratory, examined 420 adults with an average age of 75. They found that over the course of a decade, 20 of the adults committed suicide. Among those individuals, difficulty sleeping was a more significant predictor of suicide than depressive symptoms.

When asked about potential reasons behind the poor sleep-suicide link, Dr. Bernert shared one of her theories.

"One potential explanatory mechanism is mood regulation difficulties," Bernert said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "Sleep disturbances fail to provide an emotional respite to distressed individuals and make it more difficult to regulate emotion, thereby lowering the threshold for suicidal behaviors."

The good news about these findings is that sleep problems are easier to treat than other common risk factors for suicide, according to Bernert. In other words, doctors can work with elderly patients to improve their sleep habits in an effort to help prevent suicide.

If you have a difficult time sleeping, there’s a chance that you may be suffering from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes people to stop breathing numerous times during sleep. Sleep apnea is particularly common in overweight men over the age of 40. Symptoms include daytime sleepiness, headaches, memory problems, poor concentration and irritability. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, we recommend seeing a doctor so you can get tested for sleep apnea as soon as possible and start treatment if necessary.