Sleep deprived people are more likely to commit murder or take their own life, controversial research suggests.

US researchers, who tracked more than 100,000 Americans over 15 years, found a worrying link between the behaviours.

People were eight times more likely to commit homicide at 2am. The risk of suicide also rose five-fold at 3am. 

The experts argued people who suffered disrupted sleep were emotionally ‘vulnerable’ and more prone to lashing out at others. 

They believe this is because staying awake at night disrupts the brain’s decision-making functions and reduces rational thinking during a time when negative mood is ‘at its peak’. 

US researchers, who tracked more than 100,000 Americans over 15 years, found a worrying link between the behaviours. People were eight times more likely to commit homicide at 2am on average. The risk of suicide also rose five-fold at 3am

US researchers, who tracked more than 100,000 Americans over 15 years, found a worrying link between the behaviours. People were eight times more likely to commit homicide at 2am on average. The risk of suicide also rose five-fold at 3am 

Dr Andrew Tubbs, an expert in sleep and circadian rhythms in mental illness at the University of Arizona and study co-author said: ‘Disrupted sleep may acutely impair rational thought, which can drive impulsive behaviors in vulnerable individuals.’

Experts have long claimed our ‘always-on’ lives are contributing to sleeping problems with people finding it impossible to switch off from e-mail and social media.

As well as tech being blamed for interfering with people’s sleep patterns, factors like stress and anxiety are also often cited as the reasons for poor sleep.

The researchers from the University of Arizona assessed data from more than 78,000 suicides and 50,000 homicides in the US between 2003 and 2017.

They tracked the average time the population spent awake. Factors that could skew the results were also accounted for. 

Scientists also found young Americans aged 15 to 24 experienced a three-fold higher nighttime suicide risk on average.

Among older adults, suicide risk was highest at 6am. Homicide risk, however, did not vary by age, researchers said.

Writing in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, they added: ‘Risk for suicide and homicide is greater at night than expected based on the number of people awake at that time. 

‘Nighttime risk was greater among young adults and those intoxicated with alcohol, but not among those with a history of suicidal ideation or attempts.’

Sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, memory loss, diabetes, heart disease, heightened and unstable emotions, impaired ability to learn and a reduced immune response, leaving you vulnerable to disease

Sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, memory loss, diabetes, heart disease, heightened and unstable emotions, impaired ability to learn and a reduced immune response, leaving you vulnerable to disease

Dr Tubbs also said: ‘Few studies have examined time-of-day trends in violent crime.

‘Future studies could clarify what exactly is happening in the brain to predispose people to these sorts of risks and whether evidence-based strategies to improve sleep and reduce nighttime wakefulness can help reduce the risks and prevent these tragic outcomes.’

Figures suggest up to 14million Brits could unknowingly be suffering with insomnia. 

According to the American Sleep Association, nearly 70 million Americans also have a sleep disorder. 

It comes as concerns have grown in recent years over Brits use of sleeping pills.

Latest NHS data shows the number of prescriptions for drugs like Ambien (zolpidem) and zopiclone have barely shifted over the past five years, despite calls for a crackdown on dishing out powerful hypnotics. 

Advocates say they can be a lifeline to those battling the agony of sleeplessness.

But they can be addictive and users can become increasingly dependent on them to get to sleep.

Concerning side effects have also been reported, with one in 100 patients who take some hypnotics experiencing strange ‘sleep-related behaviours’.

These can include sleepwalking or even having sex without being fully aware.

  • For confidential support visit the Samaritans website or call the helpline on 08457 909090 

HOW MUCH SLEEP SHOULD YOU GET? AND WHAT TO DO IF YOU STRUGGLE TO GET ENOUGH

Preschool (3-5 years): 10-13 hours

School-age (6-13 years): 9-11 hours

Teen (14-17 years): 8-10 hours

Young adult (18-25) 7-9 hours

Adult (26-64): 7-9 hours

Older adult (65 or more) 7-8 hours

Source: Sleep Foundation 

WHAT CAN I DO TO IMPROVE MY SLEEP? 

1) Limit screen time an hour before bed

Our bodies have an internal ‘clock’ in the brain, which regulates our circadian rhythm. 

Mobiles, laptops and TVs emit blue light, which sends signals to our brain to keep us awake.

2) Address your ‘racing mind’

Take 5-10 minutes before you go to sleep to sit with a notebook and write down a list of anything that you need to do the following day.

3) Avoid caffeine after 12pm

If you want a hot drink in the afternoon or evening, go for a decaffeinated tea or coffee.

4) Keep a cool bedroom temperature

Keep bedroom thermostats to around 18°C. During spring/summer try sleeping with your bedroom window open to reduce the temperature and increase ventilation.

5) Limit alcohol in the evenings

While you might initially fall into deep sleep more easily, you then wake up frequently during the night and have poorer deep sleep overall.

6) Supplement vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a role in sleep. Vitamin D is widely available online and from most pharmacies.

If you are unsure if this is appropriate or how much you need, seek advice from your GP.

7) Ensure sufficient intake of magnesium and zinc

Foods high in magnesium include spinach, kale, avocado, bananas, cashews, and seeds. 

Foods high in zinc include meat, oysters, crab, cheese, cooked lentils, and dark chocolate (70%+).

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