Penn research team finds that suicides most commonly occur at night

Researchers suggest a possible connection between insomnia and suicide

· June 11, 2014, 8:19 pm   ·  Updated June 12, 2014, 4:12 pm

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Suicides occur most frequently at night, according to a recent study by Penn Medicine.

Led by Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program Director and Psychiatry professor Michael Perlis, the study determined that most suicides take place between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. The findings were released in the wake of the Spring semester’s two student suicides.

In addition to revealing a possible connection between insomnia and suicide, the research findings suggest that those who are awake at such late hours may also put themselves at a greater risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

“These results suggest that not only are nightmares and insomnia significant risk factors for suicidal ideation and behavior, but just being awake at night may in and of itself be a risk factor for suicide,” Perlis said in a press release.

According to the study, suicide rates saw an uptick after midnight and peaked between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. at a rate of 16.27 percent. After 6:00 a.m., this rate drops down to just over 2 percent.

The study’s findings contradict earlier studies, which concluded that the majority of suicides occurred during the daylight hours. Perlis and his team explained that the percentage of late night suicides is higher because fewer people are awake, but those who are awake are more prone to suicidal activity.

The findings accompany university-wide efforts to raise awareness and increase dialogue about mental health after following the five student suicides over the past year.

Earlier this year, the University created a mental health task force to brainstorm ideas for improving assistance for students who are under severe stress and may suffer from other conditions.

In March, Penn announced that Counseling and Psychological Services would be increasing its permanent staff numbers. While not a direct response to the two suicides earlier in the semester, this bolstering illustrated Penn’s increased awareness of mental health support. The expansion was expedited after months of budgeting by the administration.

Around the same time as this change was announced, documents surfaced evincing complaints filed about CAPS. Students who needed help had not been getting it — The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that one staff psychiatrist emailed the program director to share concerns over long wait times for students asking for appointments, although these concerns were not addressed at the time. Data reveals that throughout the 2012 to 2013 school year, students had to wait for an average of about 13 days to get an appointment with a counselor at CAPS.

The research will be presented at SLEEP 2014, the 28th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that it was a staff psychologist who emailed the CAPS program director. Rather, he was a staff psychiatrist. The DP regrets the error.

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