Objective measurement of sleep, heart rate, heart rate variability, and physical activity in suicidality: A systematic review

J Affect Disord. 2020 Aug 1;273:318-327. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.03.096. Epub 2020 May 18.


Background: Emerging literature suggests that the arousal and regulatory systems as measured by sleep-wakefulness, heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) may be powerful objective warning signs of suicidality. However, there is no systematic literature review examining the association between objective measurements of these variables with suicide and suicidal behavior.

Methods: A web-based, systematic literature search using PubMed and EMBASE was conducted for articles that measured sleep-wakefulness and HR/HRV quantitatively in association with suicide. Search results were limited to human subjects and articles published in peer-reviewed journals in English. There were no restrictions for age, sex, settings and durations of measurements, types of mental illnesses, or comorbidity.

Results: Twenty-three studies were included in the current systematic review. Across the studies, consistent patterns of disturbed sleep-wakefulness such as greater sleep onset latency and lower sleep efficiency were related to suicide. In addition, higher HR and lower variance of R-R intervals was an indicator of risk of suicide.

Limitations: Studies that used different equipment for sleep studies (i.e., polysomnography, electroencephalogram, actigraphy) were combined, and potential differences in their findings due to the different equipment were not considered.

Conclusions: Findings provide initial evidence for consistent patterns of sleep-wakefulness and HR/HRV possibly associated with suicidality; however, more studies are needed in order to identify the precise objective variables (e.g., sleep onset latency, high-frequency HRV), as well as time-varying patterns in these variables, that are related to acute suicide risk.

Keywords: Clinical care; Heart rate variability; Physical activity; Sleep; Suicide; Wearable sensors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Sleep
  • Suicide*
  • Wakefulness