Investigators found that suicidal ideation and attempts were lowest in the mornings and highest in the evenings, particularly among youth with higher levels of self-critical rumination.
“These are preliminary findings, and there is a need for more data, but they signal potentially that there’s a need for support, particularly at nighttime, and that there might be a potential of targeting self-critical rumination in daily lives of youth,” said lead researcher Anastacia Kudinova, PhD, with the department of psychiatry and human behavior, Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, R.I.
The findings were presented at the late-breaker session at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.
Suicidal ideation (SI) is a “robust” predictor of suicidal behavior and, “alarmingly,” both suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior have been increasing, Dr. Kudinova said.
“There is an urgent need to describe proximal time-period risk factors for suicide so that we can identify who is at a greater suicide risk on the time scale of weeks, days, or even hours,” she told attendees.
The researchers asked 165 psychiatrically hospitalized youth aged 11-18 (72% female) about the time of day of their most recent suicide attempt.
More than half (58%) said it occurred in the evenings and nights, followed by daytime (35%) and mornings (7%).
They also assessed the timing of suicidal ideation at home in 61 youth aged 12-15 (61% female) who were discharged after a partial hospitalization program.
They did this using ecological momentary assessments (EMAs) three times a day over 2 weeks. EMAs study people’s thoughts and behavior in their daily lives by repeatedly collecting data in an individual’s normal environment at or close to the time they carry out that behavior.
As in the other sample, youth in this sample also experienced significantly more frequent suicidal ideation later in the day (P < .01).
There was also a significant moderating effect of self-criticism (P < .01), such that more self-critical youth evidenced the highest levels of suicidal ideation later in the day.
True variation or mechanics?
Reached for comment, Paul Nestadt, MD, with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, noted that EMA is becoming “an interesting way to track high-resolution temporal variation in suicidal ideation and other psych symptoms.”
Dr. Nestadt, who was not involved in the study, said that “it’s not surprising” that the majority of youth attempted suicide in evenings and nights, “as adolescents are generally being supervised in a school setting during daytime hours. It may not be the fluctuation in suicidality that impacts attempt timing so much as the mechanics – it is very hard to attempt suicide in math class.”
The same may be true for the youth in the second sample who were in the partial hospital program. “During the day, they were in therapy groups where feelings of suicidal ideation would have been solicited and addressed in real time,” Dr. Nestadt noted.
“Again, suicidal ideation later in the day may be a practical effect of how they are occupied in the partial hospital program, as opposed to some inherent suicidal ideation increase linked to something endogenous, such as circadian rhythm or cortisol level rises. That said, we do often see more attempts in the evenings in adults as well,” he added.