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Home » Patient care » Chronic insomnia: waking up to the 24-hour reality of patients

Dr Zoe Schaedel

NHS GP with special interest in sleep and menopause.
Co-director, Myla Health and co-founder, The Good Sleep Clinic

The importance of a good night’s sleep to our health and wellbeing has been gaining prominence. However, little is known about chronic insomnia — a serious medical condition with wide-ranging implications.

Chronic insomnia is a 24-hour condition affecting patients across the night and day, says Dr Zoe Schaedel. The identification, diagnosis and management of the condition is crucial.

Q: What is chronic insomnia, and how does it differ from insomnia?

Insomnia is something many of us may have experienced at one point in our lives. It’s when you have some difficulty sleeping, perhaps as a response to a stress trigger.

However, chronic insomnia occurs when the sleep problems do not resolve and continue to persist. By definition, it’s a medical condition that impacts a person’s ability to fall or stay asleep, or they wake up early in the morning, for at least three nights a week, for over three months, despite an adequate opportunity to sleep.

The condition doesn’t just affect nights; a key symptom is its negative impact on day-to-day functioning. This can affect a few areas: energy levels, concentration, cognitive function and emotional wellbeing.

Patients can feel embarrassed as they think it
should be ‘easy’ to achieve a good night’s sleep.

Q: What are some of the key issues your chronic insomnia patients face?

Patients can start to limit their social interactions. This can be due to tiredness, lack of enthusiasm or wanting to stay home to focus on getting a good night’s sleep.

Chronic insomnia can also have an impact on work, whereby individuals might not be very productive due to fatigue. Consequently, this can result in work absences, poor performance and struggles with career progression. There is also a stigma surrounding the condition. Patients can feel embarrassed as they think it should be ‘easy’ to achieve a good night’s sleep.

Q: Do you think chronic insomnia is seen as a medical condition?

People often think insomnia is simply a symptom of something else — for example, anxiety or depression. Whilst it’s true these conditions can cause difficulty sleeping, and vice versa, insomnia is still a diagnosis in its own right and should be treated as such.

Q: What advice would you give to individuals struggling with chronic insomnia?

Patients should not hesitate to seek help from a healthcare professional. Patients can struggle with the condition on their own for years. It’s important to know that chronic insomnia is a treatable condition. This is a key step in making sure individuals get the quality sleep they deserve.

Date of preparation: December 2023

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