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Clinical Crossroads | Conferences With Patients and Doctors| Clinician's Corner

Insomnia

Daniel J. Buysse, MD
JAMA. 2013;309(7):706-716. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.193.
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Published online

Importance Insomnia is one of the most prevalent health concerns in the population and in clinical practice. Clinicians may be reluctant to address insomnia because of its many potential causes, unfamiliarity with behavioral treatments, and concerns about pharmacologic treatments.

Objective To review the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of insomnia in adults.

Evidence Review Systematic review to identify and summarize previously published quantitative reviews (meta-analyses) of behavioral and pharmacologic treatments for insomnia.

Findings Insomnia is a common clinical condition characterized by difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, accompanied by symptoms such as irritability or fatigue during wakefulness. The prevalence of insomnia disorder is approximately 10% to 20%, with approximately 50% having a chronic course. Insomnia is a risk factor for impaired function, development of other medical and mental disorders, and increased health care costs. The etiology and pathophysiology of insomnia involve genetic, environmental, behavioral, and physiological factors culminating in hyperarousal. The diagnosis of insomnia is established by a thorough history of sleep behaviors, medical and psychiatric problems, and medications, supplemented by a prospective record of sleep patterns (sleep diary). Quantitative literature reviews (meta-analyses) support the efficacy of behavioral, cognitive, and pharmacologic interventions for insomnia. Brief behavioral interventions and Internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy both show promise for use in primary care settings. Among pharmacologic interventions, the most evidence exists for benzodiazepine receptor agonist drugs, although persistent concerns focus on their safety relative to modest efficacy. Behavioral treatments should be used whenever possible, and medications should be limited to the lowest necessary dose and shortest necessary duration.

Conclusions and Relevance Clinicians should recognize insomnia because of its effects on function and health. A thorough clinical history is often sufficient to identify factors that contribute to insomnia. Behavioral treatments should be used when possible. Hypnotic medications are also efficacious but must be carefully monitored for adverse effects.

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