Insomnia is considered as a separate condition when unsatisfactory sleep impacts your daytime functioning.
Most adults report some degree of insomnia during their life. Insomnia can be in some cases associated with increased morbidity and mortality, which is finally caused by cardiovascular disease and psychiatric disorders. Genetically, unless a family member died of insomnia you are not likely to have any predisposition to this disorder. For the vast majority of people, chronic insomnia will not directly lead to death. It can however lead to increased accidental deaths – for obvious reasons. Sleep deprivation directly affects both psychological and physical functioning.
Risk factors for chronic insomnia include increasing age, being female, psychiatric illness, medical co-morbidities, impaired social relationships, lower socio-economic status, separation from a spouse or partner, and unemployment.
Exercise, cognitive behavior therapy, and relaxation therapy can be effective non-pharmacologic treatments for chronic insomnia. Melatonin is often effective in patients with circadian rhythm sleep disorders and can be considered for use in the short term. Treating insomnia is a specialist area, however, and typically a SleepGP will refer you to a specialist Sleep Physician if you suffer from it.
It is believed that up to 5% of people use medications to aid sleep, and many more use herbal concoctions readily available in pharmacists and health food and supplement stores. The evidence of any material and sustained benefit from these is virtually impossible to find.
Insomnia won’t be cured by sleeping pills—in fact, over the long-term they can actually make insomnia worse. A study at Harvard Medical School found that CBT was more effective at treating chronic insomnia than prescription sleep medication—but without the risks or side effects.Treatment will likely begin with non-pharmacologic therapy, by addressing sleep hygiene issues and exercise.
Treatment starts with a discussion with your GP, and where possible with a SleepGP, however most likely the patient pathway to overcoming insomnia will lead to an appropriately qualified medical specialist, even though it might be supported by other healthcare providers.