New Research: Identify and Treat Insomnia Early to Reduce Risk of Other Illnesses

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January 30, 2012

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, but despite advances in diagnosis and management, it often goes unrecognized and untreated. Left untreated, insomnia increases the risk of developing other illnesses including depression, diabetes, hypertension, and possibly even death in older adults. Therefore, much more needs to be done to identify and treat insomnia early, and to ensure that patients are treated according to clinical guidelines rather than with off-label drugs that have little evidence for their effectiveness, concludes a review of the evidence published Online First in The Lancet.

"In view of the high prevalence and substantial morbidities of insomnia, patients should routinely be asked about sleep problems by health-care providers," say Charles Morin from the Université Laval, Québec City, Canada and Ruth Benca from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA, authors of the Seminar.

Approximately a quarter of the adult population have sleeping problems and an estimated 6% to 10% have an insomnia disorder. Individuals with insomnia experience difficulty falling or staying asleep, a lack of restorative sleep, and daytime symptoms such as fatigue, trouble concentrating, and mood disturbances.

Most individuals with the condition are vulnerable to recurrent episodes and longitudinal research suggests that nearly 70% of individuals with insomnia continue to experience symptoms a year later, and half still have insomnia up to 3 years later.

People with insomnia are more than five times as likely to experience anxiety and depression, are at more than double the risk of developing congestive heart failure and diabetes, and have an elevated risk of death. One study also found that individuals with insomnia are seven times more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs over the next three and a half years compared with those without the condition.

Insomnia also results in a substantial economic and societal burden through poor productivity, absence from work, and high health-care costs.

The authors observe that despite the widespread use of over-the-counter and prescription drug treatment, long-term use of such drugs is not well studied and there is little evidence of which drugs work best and for whom.

Moreover, they add, some of the most