Approximately 40% of Americans experience symptoms of insomnia each year. 15% of these individuals suffer from persistent insomnia. This is defined by duration of longer than one month and persistent symptoms on two or more follow-up visits with their health care provider.
A recent study from South Korea published in the journal Sleep highlights the emotional problems associated with persistent insomnia. In this study, over 1000 people with insomnia were followed for a six year period. Those with insomnia who evidenced either depression or suicidal ideation (thoughts about suicide) were eliminated from the study at the beginning.
Over the next six years, those with chronic insomnia were followed closely. They were periodically screened for the development of depression or suicidal ideation. The odds of developing depression in those with persistent insomnia was 2.5 times more likely and of developing suicidal ideation was 1.7 times more likely than those without insomnia.
There have been other studies published where the odds of developing depression or suicidal thoughts have been even higher than in this study.
However, the main point is that insomnia, if persistent and not treated appropriately, can result in significant emotional consequences.
Unfortunately, insomnia is frequently not addressed. One reason is that patients, particularly male patients, fail to bring it to the attention of their health care provider. A second and more common reason is that there exists a lack of health care providers trained in treating insomnia. When this is coupled with the fact that so many clinicians are overburdened, it results in a potential mental health crisis due to a lack of early intervention.
The take home message is that first, if you suffer from chronic insomnia, don’t ignore it. Second, seek out expert help. If someone just writes a prescription for a sleep medication without taking the time to discuss your problem in depth you are probably in the wrong place. Finally, there are practitioners available in most areas who are skilled in both the pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatment of insomnia. An excellent resource is the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine. The bottom line is don’t wait until you develop a mood disorder.