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Sleep Disorders

25 October 2019

For insomniacs: sleep aids can ease a troubled mind

A recent study concluded that if patients have a really bad sleep problem and they have considered suicide, they should be given a targeted treatment for their insomnia.

People with severe insomnia may find that a sedative helps them sleep and banishes thoughts of suicide, a new study suggests.

"If you have a patient who complains that their sleep has taken a turn for the worse, then there is reason to open the door to a question about suicide," said corresponding author Dr W. Vaughn McCall. He's chairman of the department of psychiatry and health behaviour at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

Attempted suicide

"If your patient says their sleep problem is really bad and they have had thoughts of killing themselves, maybe they should have a targeted treatment for their insomnia," he added in a college news release.

For the study, the researchers recruited 103 adults, aged 18 to 65, who had a major depressive disorder, insomnia and suicidal thoughts. Of those, 30% had previously attempted suicide.

Participants were given antidepressants for eight weeks. Half also took zolpidem (Ambien) at bedtime. The patients kept a nightly sleep diary that described how many times they woke and how long they actually slept.

Those taking Ambien saw significant improvement in their insomnia, the study found. Both groups also saw improvement in feelings of hopelessness, quality of life, nightmares and suicidal thoughts.

Antidepressants and a sleep aid

The sleep aid was most effective in curbing suicidal thoughts in patients who had the worst insomnia, the study authors said.

No suicide attempts or deaths occurred during the study, McCall's team noted.

The researchers don't think all such patients should be prescribed a sleep medicine, but they added that the findings do suggest that a combination of antidepressants and a sleep aid may help suicidal patients with severe insomnia.

The research was funded by the US National Institute of Mental Health. The report was published online recently in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Image credit: iStock

 

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Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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