HomeNewsPress Releases

National Institute of Mental Health Funds Research Study Linking Sleep and Emotional Regulation to Suicidal Ideation



A joint team of researchers from the Austen Riggs Center, Long Island University, and Rutgers University hypothesize that for certain psychiatric patients, disturbed sleep negatively impacts daily interactions with others, and those negative interactions can in turn increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Katie Lewis, PhD is the Research Psychologist at the Austen Riggs Center, Stockbridge, MA.Stockbridge, MA – October 22, 2019 –Utilizing smartphone technology, researchers Nicole Cain, PhD (Rutgers University), Katie Lewis, PhD (Austen Riggs Center), and Kevin Meehan, PhD (Long Island University) will monitor 105 adult psychiatric patients over a period of two weeks as part of a longer National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) funded study to determine if disrupted sleep leads to higher instances of suicidal thoughts and impulses.

The study comes at a time when suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The group also reported that in 2017 some 47,173 Americans died by suicide, with an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts.

While previous studies on patients diagnosed with sleep and circadian rhythm disorders have examined the relationship between disturbed sleep and suicide, this project represents the first of its kind to focus on sleep disruption, interpersonal relationships, and suicidal thoughts as experienced in the moment by patients with chronic and severe mental illness. 

“In suicide research, the majority of studies focus on risk and protective factors for suicide, the broad things that are familiar to most people like depression, hopelessness, and impulsivity,” Lewis said. “This work focuses on who might be at risk on more of a momentary level, as well as how sources of risk might interact with personality factors to increase the immediacy of danger for a particular individual.”

“Traditionally research has overly relied on what participants remember—how they felt, how they acted, how they slept the night before—and yet we know that memories of our feeling and behaviors can be faulty,” Meehan said. “This project will use technology to capture more real-time assessments—including ratings throughout the day that patients enter in their smartphones of feelings and events, and monitoring through the night while wearing a sleep tracking watch—which allows us to model these emotional events as they unfold over time,” he added.

“Poor sleep quality disrupts our ability to regulate our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, which can then lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts and behaviors” Cain said. “This study will allow us to investigate the cumulative effects of sleep disruption on momentary risk for suicide.”

The overall study, which begins this year and will conclude in 2021, involves patients at the Rutgers University community-based psychological services center; the LIU Brooklyn counseling center; and the Austen Riggs Center, which is a long-term residential treatment facility.

Research reported in this release was supported by the NIMH, which is a part of the National Institutes of Health, under award number RF1MH120840. The NIMH provided $398,981 for the project, which represents 100 percent of the study being financed with federal money. The content of this release is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Austen Riggs Center                              Long Island University                              Rutgers University, Graduate School of 
John Zollinger                                         Mary Studdert                                           Applied & Professional Psychology
Director of Communications                   Associate Director of Communications     Djenaba Figueroa
413.931.5816                                          516.299.2602                                           Dir. of Marketing & Communications 
john.zollinger@austenriggs.net              mary.studdert@liu.edu                              848.445.3878

About the Austen Riggs Center (ARC)

The Austen Riggs Center is a leading psychiatric hospital and residential treatment program that has been serving adults since its founding in 1919. Within an open setting, patients participate in an intensive treatment milieu that emphasizes respectful engagement. Individual psychodynamic psychotherapy is provided four times a week by doctors on staff. The Erikson Institute for Education and Research of the Austen Riggs Center studies individuals in their social contexts through research, training, education, and outreach programs in the local community and beyond. Riggs is consistently ranked a “Best Hospital in Psychiatry” by U.S. News & World Report. For more information, visit www.austenriggs.org.

About Long Island University (LIU)
LIU, founded in 1926, continues to redefine higher education, providing high quality academic instruction by world-class faculty. Recognized by Forbes for its emphasis on experiential learning and by the Brookings Institution for its “value added” to student outcomes, LIU offers over 250 academic programs, with a network of 260,000 alumni, including industry leaders and entrepreneurs across the globe. LIU’s renowned faculty, the LIU Promise student mentoring program, innovation in engaged learning, further distinguish LIU as a leader among the nation’s most respected universities. Visit liu.edu for more information.

About Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is a leading national research university and the state of New Jersey’s preeminent, comprehensive public institution of higher education. Established in 1766, the university is the eighth-oldest higher education institution in the United States. More than 70,800 students and 23,400 faculty and staff learn, work and serve the public at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Rutgers University-Newark, Rutgers University-Camden, and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. Visit rutgers.edu for more information.