Cognitive Behavioral Therapy May Reduce Suicidal Thoughts in Insomniacs

According to new research, people who suffer with insomnia may experience a reduction in suicidal ideation when they undergo cognitive-behavioral therapy. The research involved 303 people with insomnia and revealed that over one-fifth of them had experienced suicidal thoughts within the previous two weeks. The results revealed that implementing CBT greatly reduced their suicidal ideation. The researchers report that insomnia, and other sleep disorders, are ranked at the top of the list of warning signs for suicide by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.

The study is unique because it is the first to examine the effect of intervention for the prevention of suicide in those with insomnia. “This is the first investigation to show that a sleep-targeted intervention has a therapeutic impact on suicide risk specifically,” said lead author Rebecca Bernert, PhD, a fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University in California. “This suggests that a treatment focus on sleep disturbances may have important implications for the prevention of suicidal behaviors.”

The study was conducted on clients ranging in age from 18 to 88, all with insomnia. Their level of suicidal ideation was gauged using the Beck Depression Inventory. Each of the participants engaged in CBT specifically designed for insomnia weekly for the duration of the study, with the therapy diminishing to bi-weekly sessions at the end. The subjects were evaluated before the therapy began, and again at its conclusion. The researchers note that these findings are significant, as suicide has outnumbered the amount of homicides each year in recent years. Specifically, suicide was ranked the 10th leading cause of death in 2009 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers hope that this study will lead to earlier treatment and intervention for people suffering from insomnia and will ultimately significantly decrease the number of lives lost to suicide.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ursula


    June 17th, 2011 at 4:30 AM

    How do I convince someone who is only suffering from lack of sleep that she would need to see a psychiatrist? She thinks that if only the doctors would give her the right sleep medications then she would be able to get some better sleep. But I see from reading this that for many people who have sleep issues like hers that it can go way deeper than that. There could be some unresolved emotional issues that are keeping her fom getting the sleep that she needs. And to think that this lack of sleep for the body could actually lead to her considering ending it all gives me chills of fear.

  • rosy


    June 17th, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    I don’t want to be too hard on such people but why do they want to end their own loves? I mean it is a natural instinct for any living being to fled danger and try to protect itself in any situation. Then why do some people want to kill themselves?! And while were at finding the precise reasons scientifically it is encouraging to know that there are methods to discourage such people from taking the disastrous step.

  • addie


    June 18th, 2011 at 5:11 AM

    Insomnia is a hard situation to deal with. It is like the more you think about going to sleep and how important it would be, the harder it becomes to get that desired sleep! I sometimes think that maybe this is what happened with Michael Jackson? maybe he was looking for a way out and this was his way? What seems so easy for most people can bring others down in a heartbeat so it is nice to see that the issue is being given the recognition that has been missing for a long time. Just knowing that there is the potential for help out there is going to make a while lot of people feel better and feel like there could besomething out there that can get them back to normal.

  • Roxanne Craven

    Roxanne Craven

    June 19th, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    @Ursula: Not all who are insomniacs have mental problems that need to be resolved. Some are just insomniacs by nature or are not taking simple steps that could alleviate that, e.g. not drinking too much coffee or getting enough done in the day to tire them out. Meditation and relaxation techniques before attempting sleep could help too.

    Making lifestyle changes alone may work and if that doesn’t, then suggest she seeks out professional therapy as an alternative to pills to see if that helps.

    I’d frame it to her by saying there’s no harm in trying and as she wants to be rid of her insomnia, it makes sense to explore all the avenues aside from just meds.

  • U.R.


    June 19th, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    I really don’t see a clear link between insomnia and suicide. I think the insomnia is related to what is causing the thoughts of suicide, such as being awake over debts, worry, panic, health bills and so on.

    If there is a link, then it’s very indirect and it’s that the suicidal thoughts are causing the insomnia, not vice versa.

  • Josh Richmond

    Josh Richmond

    June 19th, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    @U.R. – But that’s still a link isn’t it? There are many warning signs for suicide that may seem odd and make no sense whatsoever to you. However, the facts are that they have been linked clear as day to suicide risk. Think about how you feel if you can’t sleep. Your mind is already muddled and not operating at its best.

  • dan curtis

    dan curtis

    June 20th, 2011 at 12:12 AM

    @rosy: See, that’s the thing with primates. Primates are by far smarter than almost all other animals on the planet as a species, and they are perfectly capable of overriding their instincts.

    (Any animal incapable of this is unintelligent, no matter how good they are at sitting or playing dead. Dogs aren’t considered the Einsteins of the animal world for example. Pigs, dolphins and even rats beat them in those stakes.)

    We humans have free will in abundance and that’s why we can make decisions that appear contrary to whatever you would think the instinctive move to make would be. Make sense?

  • Ellie Conway

    Ellie Conway

    June 20th, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    @addie–Hmmm, I don’t know what news reports you have been reading. Micheal Jackson died because of a medical mistake, not suicide. You’re probably thinking of a completely different star.

    It was in fairness indeed rumored to be suicide in Jackson’s case when it all happened. The evidence suggests otherwise. The case is currently ongoing against his doctor for involuntary manslaughter.

  • Christine


    June 20th, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    Yeah, sounds great in theory. But how many insurance companies do you think are going to pay for this for their members when most of them think that an Ambien is going to do the trick for all patients?

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on