For the first time, researchers have identified the prevalence and incidence of acute insomnia – sleep difficulties lasting three months or less – providing new insights into how it develops and at what stage effective treatment should be started to prevent it developing into the longer term condition of chronic insomnia.
People are diagnosed as suffering with acute insomnia if they have had problems sleeping for less than three months, and chronic insomnia if the sleeping problems persist for longer. As chronic insomnia leads to an increased risk of developing major depression, researchers are seeking to find out more about how the transition from acute to chronic insomnia takes place in order to prevent this.
Dr Jason Ellis, Director of the Northumbria Centre for Sleep Research, worked with colleagues in the USA, Canada and Glasgow on a unique study that examined the sleep habits and patterns of both normal sleepers and those with acute insomnia.
The findings revealed that acute insomnia was widespread with almost nine per cent of the US sample and eight per cent of the UK sample suffering episodes of acute insomnia during the study period. It was also found that between 31.2% and 36.6% of the UK sample were likely to develop acute insomnia in a year. For the first time, the results also indicate the rate of transition from acute to chronic insomnia (21.43%), although this figure is higher if it is not the first episode of insomnia.
Dr Ellis said: “This study provides the first prevalence and incidence data for acute insomnia. The results demonstrate that acute insomnia is highly prevalent and is a first step towards a systematic investigation of its natural history.
“The information our research has provided gives us a first indication of the scale and scope of the problem. Our next step will be to explore the factors that can cause or prevent the transition from acute to chronic insomnia.”
The study, entitled ‘The natural history of insomnia: Focus on prevalence and incidence of acute insomnia’, is published online in the Journal of Psychiatric Research this month. It was part-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.