Last week, the Alliance for Sleep committee announced new data from the largest insomnia-based survey in the US, which found that 70% of people with trouble sleeping due to insomnia were “desperate to find a solution”.
Insomnia affects approximately 25 million adults in the US, and is partially responsible for the roughly $7 billion spent annually on products or sleep aids such as blackout curtains, eye masks, and white noise machines.
Findings from Wake Up America: The Night & Day Impact of Insomnia survey put in to sharp focus the complications of insomnia, which includ a notable lack of discussions being had among patients and providers regarding sleep health.
According to the survey, only 66% of primary care physicians reported frequently asking about sleep during routine visits, and only 27% of patients with trouble sleeping reported that their doctors asked about their sleep during every visit.
In an interview with HCPLive, Ruth Benca, MD, PhD, co-chair of The Alliance for Sleep spoke of how the survey results could provide Americans with wake up call regarding insomnia prevalence and improve upon the conversations between patients and healthcare providers.
“We know that insomnia is not a standalone problem, it really often occurs with many other medical and psychiatric disorders, and is in fact a risk factor for a number of health problems,” Benca said. “I think the strongest evidence is that we know that people with chronic sleep disturbance and chronic insomnia are at significantly elevated risk for developing psychiatric disorders, including things like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide. And that’s really important, because right now we’re also in the middle of a psychiatric pandemic.”
Benca added that among patients and providers alike, insomnia is not appropriately considered as a major health risk.
In addition to providers not likely not inquiring enough about a patient’s sleep patterns, patients themselves are often reluctant to speak on any sleep-related issues. Furthermore, 66% of survey participants who had taken or currently take prescription sleep medication reported feeling a stigma associated with the medications.
Benca noted that great progress had been made in recent years in understanding abnormal brain activity in patients with sleep disorders including insomnia. Considering these advancements in sleep health, she hoped the recent survey would encourage patients and providers to educate themselves and each other on sleep health.
“As a pillar of health, sleep has been probably the most neglected of them all, and I think we’re trying to raise awareness of that,” Benca said. “And if people start to understand more the importance of their sleep, I hope they’ll go and see their doctors and health care providers and talk about their sleep. We’re hoping this will also open up physicians by teaching them more about sleep and to ask their patients about sleep and to be comfortable treating sleep problems, because it’s an educational issue as well.”
To hear more from Dr. Benca on the complication of insomnia, current medications, and potential research regarding sleep health, listen to the full episode of DocTalk above.