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Insomnia In The U.S. Is Still A Pressing Public Health Problem, Study Shows

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Sleep is a major problem for many Americans, according to a new report that acts as a kind of "state-of-insomnia" in the U.S. The review, published online Thursday night by the medical journal The Lancet, finds that nearly a quarter of adults are unhappy with their sleep patterns, while up to 10 percent meet the criteria for full-fledged insomnia -- putting them at a greater risk for depression, hypertension and diabetes.

"Insomnia has traditionally been trivialized," paper co-author Charles Morin, Ph.D, a sleep researcher and professor at the Universite Laval in Quebec City, told HuffPost. "Now that we know a little bit more about its long-term consequences, it's getting a bit more attention."

More attention, maybe, but experts agree that insomnia remains a pressing public health problem.

To better assess just how pressing it is, researchers studied several scientific databases, synthesizing findings from major original studies, meta-analyses and systemic reviews from the last five or so years.

Their results spotlight a need to better identify and treat insomnia early, given the sleep disorder's association with other serious health consequences. As an example, the authors cite a 2002 report suggesting that insomniacs are more than twice as likely to have congestive heart failure than individuals without the disorder, and five times as likely to have anxiety or depression.

They also write that long-term studies suggest insomnia may be a risk factor for numerous psychological disorders, including "substance misuse."

Yet despite this information having been available for years, much insomnia still goes undiagnosed and untreated, Morin said. He recommended that anyone having trouble falling or staying asleep several nights a week over the course of several weeks without a clear explanation should consider seeking professional help.

"Insomnia remains vastly under-diagnosed," agreed Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D, a board-certified sleep specialist and HuffPost blogger who was not associated with the report.

"There's still a fair amount of confusion about where to go for help, and what kind of help there is for this very common -- if not the most common -- sleep disorder," he continued.

If there is a bright spot in the new report, it is that treatment is, indeed, possible.

A 2005 National Institute of Health conference concluded that there is "adequate" evidence supporting the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy and benzodiazepine receptor agonists, or hypnotics, in treating chronic insomnia. The former is a drug-free process done with a therapist and typically conducted in up to six weekly sessions, though the process is tailored to individuals.

"CBT produces sleep improvements that are sustained over time, which is a clear advantage compared with drug treatment," the report's authors write.

However, CBT is often not readily available, as relatively few clinicians are properly trained in it. Because of that, the paper's authors call for research into the efficacy of alternate treatment delivery models, like support groups and telephone consultations, to help treat insomnia. They also call for research into new drugs not currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the primary use of treating the sleep disorder.

"There's no single treatment that works for everyone," Morin said, adding that people should not assume sleep problems will take care of themselves, and that health care providers should pay close attention to the various treatment options. "We should really keep our eyes open."

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