Research — 31 July 2015

A new study has found that teens who suffer from sleep difficulties, such as insomnia and short sleep duration, are significantly more likely to engage in self-harm compared to teens with healthy sleep patterns.

The findings suggest that sleep interventions be included in treatments for teens with self-harming behaviors.

“Both health care professionals and other people should be aware of the fact that good sleep routines can prevent both stress and negative emotions. Sleep regulation is one of the factors one should consider to use in preventing and treating self-harm among young people,” said lead researcher and psychology specialist Mari Hysing, Ph.D., from Uni Research in Bergen, Norway.

The researchers conducted a large population-based study using data from the [email protected] survey. The data included self-reports from 10,220 teenagers who were 16-19 years of age in Western Norway. They answered questions on mental health and completed a comprehensive assessment of sleep and self-harm.

A total of 702 (7.2 percent) teen respondents met the criteria for self-harm, and more than half (55 percent) of those reported harming themselves on two or more occasions.

The risk of self-harming was four times higher among the 16-19 years old adolescents who fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for insomnia. The researchers also found that self-harming was more common in girls than boys, and that cutting was the most prevalent type of self-harm behavior, Hysing said.

Several types of sleeping problems were found to be linked consistently to self-harming behavior.

“Insomnia, short sleep duration, long sleep onset latency, wake after sleep onset as well as large differences between weekdays versus weekends, yielded higher odds of self-harm consistent with a dose-response relationship,” said the researchers.

Teens who had engaged in self-harm behaviors also showed higher levels of depression, perfectionism, and symptoms of ADHD. The researchers add that depressive symptoms accounted for some, but not all, of the connection to self-harming.

However, having symptoms of ADHD remained significant even in the fully adjusted analyses, the researchers emphasize.

To help prevent teens from engaging in self-harming behaviors, the researchers suggest interventions that incorporate healthy sleeping habits as a part of the treatment.

The research findings are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

This article first appeared on ‘Psych Central’ on 30 July 2015.

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