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Short sleep duration and poor sleep quality predict next-day suicidal ideation: an ecological momentary assessment study

  • Donna L. Littlewood (a1) (a2) (a3), Simon D. Kyle (a4), Lesley-Anne Carter (a5), Sarah Peters (a1) (a2) (a6), Daniel Pratt (a1) (a2) and Patricia Gooding (a1) (a2)...



Sleep problems are a modifiable risk factor for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Yet, sparse research has examined temporal relationships between sleep disturbance, suicidal ideation, and psychological factors implicated in suicide, such as entrapment. This is the first in-the-moment investigation of relationships between suicidal ideation, objective and subjective sleep parameters, and perceptions of entrapment.


Fifty-one participants with current suicidal ideation completed week-long ecological momentary assessments. An actigraph watch was worn for the duration of the study, which monitored total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and sleep latency. Daily sleep diaries captured subjective ratings of the same sleep parameters, with the addition of sleep quality. Suicidal ideation and entrapment were measured at six quasi-random time points each day. Multi-level random intercept models and moderation analyses were conducted to examine the links between sleep, entrapment, and suicidal ideation, adjusting for anxiety and depression severity.


Analyses revealed a unidirectional relationship whereby short sleep duration (both objective and subjective measures), and poor sleep quality, predicted the higher severity of next-day suicidal ideation. However, there was no significant association between daytime suicidal ideation and sleep the following night. Sleep quality moderated the relationship between pre-sleep entrapment and awakening levels of suicidal ideation.


This is the first study to report night-to-day relationships between sleep disturbance, suicidal ideation, and entrapment. Findings suggest that sleep quality may alter the strength of the relationship between pre-sleep entrapment and awakening suicidal ideation. Clinically, results underscore the importance of assessing and treating sleep disturbance when working with those experiencing suicidal ideation.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Donna L Littlewood, E-mail:


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