Insomnia often isn’t recognised by the medical profession and so goes untreated with consequences for the health of sufferers. So says a new review of the medical evidence published in the Online First section of The Lancet. According to the researchers involved, untreated insomnia can increase our risk of developing other illnesses, including depression, diabetes and hypertension. That’s alongside the fatigue, difficulty concentrating and moodiness that can come with lack of sleep.
The message from the authors of the review, Charles Morin from the Universite Laval in Canada and Ruth Benca, from the University of Wisconsin, is that insomnia needs to be diagnosed more effectively, caught earlier and treated, to help prevent other, serious conditions developing.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, better known as CBT, is one of the two treatment options supported by the National Institutes of Health in the USA. (The other is the use of approved hypnotic drugs). The way CBT works is by changing how you think and how you behave using psychological and behavioural approaches, such as relaxation techniques, which have been found helpful with different types of problems.
“Patients with long-term insomnia often have other issues including alcohol or drug misuse, anxiety or depression, obesity or external problems such as noisy neighbours,” said Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).
“A good GP will address what the problem is, and try to tailor treatments or interventions to the cause, treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms in front of them.
“The RCGP supports CBT and talking therapies as an alternative to medication in the treatment of a range of conditions, including depression and mental health problems. However, we appreciate that there is limited funding for such therapies and very high demand.”
Lack of availability is a problem with CBT, because there aren’t enough professionals trained in this therapy. However, there are different ways of accessing CBT. First, ask your GP whether it is available through the NHS in your area.
They may be able to refer you to a health professional, such as a nurse or psychologist who is CBT trained. If they can’t do that, ask if there are other options, such as online CBT courses that you can do at home, or in another quiet place where you have access to a computer.
Your GP may be able to lend you the software you need for an online course, or help you find it. “Online CBT can be useful because you can do it in your own time, and you don’t have to speak to anyone – not everyone wants to talk about their feelings face to face with a counsellor,” said Julia Lamb of the mental health charity MIND.