Sleep problems, suicide and self-harm in university students: a systematic review

Kirsten Russell, Stephanie Allan, Louise Beattie, Jason Bohan, Ken MacMahon, Susan Rasmussen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


Suicide and self-harm behaviours represent public health concerns, and university students are a particularly high risk group. Identifying modifiable risk factors for the development and maintenance of suicidal thoughts and behaviours is a research priority, as prevention is crucial. Research examining the relationship between poor sleep and self-harm/suicidality within university students is, for the first time, systematically evaluated, critically appraised, and synthesised. This literature consistently demonstrates that insomnia and nightmares are associated with elevated suicide risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviours within this subpopulation of young adults. However, as findings are predominantly derived from cross-sectional investigations, the directionality of this relationship is not yet clear. While research investigating the psychological processes driving this relationship is in its infancy, preliminary findings suggest that thwarted belongingness, socio-cognitive factors and emotional dysregulation could be partly responsible. Methodological limitations are highlighted and a research agenda suggesting the key directions for future research is proposed. Continued research in this area - employing longitudinal designs, and testing novel theoretically derived hypotheses - will be crucial to the development of suicide prevention and intervention efforts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-69
Number of pages12
JournalSleep Medicine Reviews
Early online date23 Jan 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Jan 2019


  • poor sleep
  • insomnia
  • nightmares
  • parasomnias
  • suicidal ideation
  • suicide
  • self-harm
  • students


Dive into the research topics of 'Sleep problems, suicide and self-harm in university students: a systematic review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this