Survey Finds That Trouble Sleeping Can Lead to Rocky Relationships

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The Alliance for Sleep recently announced thought-provoking new data from its annual Wake Up America survey. The new data focuses on people with trouble sleeping (PWTS) and their partners, shining a light on sleeplessness at home and beyond.

Conducted online by The Harris Poll, this U.S. survey was created on behalf of and under the leadership of The Alliance for Sleep, an organization comprised of some of the nation’s leading sleep medicine experts, and supported by Idorsia Pharmaceuticals U.S. In addition to highlighting the impact of insomnia on PWTS and their partners, the survey also delves into the dialogue with primary care physicians (PCPs) and sleep experts to explore the complexities of seeking treatment. The results reinforce the need of continued education around the toll of insomnia, improved dialogue at home and in the doctor’s office, and accurate, accessible sleep resources for PWTS.

Impact on the Partner & Relationship
Survey results reveal the pervasive impact of insomnia, extending beyond PWTS to their partners and home life. Nearly one in four PWTS say they are constantly arguing with their partner about their insomnia,a with 41% of PWTS stating they in general argue more with their partner due to their insomnia.1 Additionally, over half of PWTS report that insomnia is an added stressor to their relationship, with 41% reporting it causes their partner to ‘pick up the slack’ for the household.a Also, 31% of PWTS have stated they’ve slept in separate bed or room from their significant other.

Information Overload
PWTS often receive information and tips to improve their insomnia from non-medical experts like friends, family and the internet/social media. PWTS have tried a myriad of suggestions ranging from blackout curtains to white noise to meditation. However, none of these options when used alone are American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommended insomnia treatment options, and this overload of suggestions can prevent PWTS from finding an effective treatment.

Myths & Misconceptions
Further obstructing PWTS on their treatment journeys are pervasive myths about treatment for insomnia. Melatonin and sleep hygiene alone are not AASM-recommended treatments for insomnia. 2,3 However, approximately 70% of PWTS, partners and PCPs mistakenly believe melatonin is a treatment for insomnia and more than two-thirds believe sleep hygiene is a treatment for insomnia as well.b

“Practicing good sleep hygiene is helpful for anyone trying to improve their sleep, but for someone experiencing insomnia, sleep hygiene habits on their own are not often sufficient. Further, while melatonin may be helpful for treating circadian rhythm disorders, it is also not a solution for insomnia,” said Ruth Benca, MD, PhD, co-chair of The Alliance for Sleep.

Stigma Around Treatment: The Insomnia Conversation Gap
Survey results demonstrate the persistence of stigma and disconnect between PWTS and health care providers (HCPs). Nearly half of PWTS who are currently taking or have taken a prescription sleep medication believe there is stigma with both having (45%) and treating (46%) insomnia. This stigma surrounding the treatment of insomnia then prevents many from seeking treatment or medication (45%) or talking to their healthcare provider (30%). When a PWTS does see a provider, only 36% of PWTS report they are asked about their sleep during routine visits, yet 67% of PCPs say they do address sleep and sleep habits, revealing a critical communication gap between PWTS and HCPs.c

“The stigma around treating insomnia and the perceived gap in dialogue between PWTS and HCPs create additional barriers, making the journey for improved sleep even more difficult. These findings point to a need for more education and engaged dialogue around insomnia,” said Patricia Torr, President and General Manager of Idorsia U.S.

Additional findings from the Wake Up America survey further reinforce the need for more productive conversations in the doctor’s office and at home, as well as accurate information and resources on sleep and insomnia for patients to initiate conversations with their doctor:

  • Immense toll of insomnia on relationships, leaving the partner frustrated and the PWTS not feeling understood:
    • 54% of PWTS (who are married or living with their partner) agree their partner does not fully understand the impact trouble sleeping has on their quality of life
    • 35% of PWTS (who are married or living with their partner) report they argue with their partner about their insomnia at least once a month
  • Disconnect between PWTS and PCPs on what to discuss during doctor visits, which complicates the journey for treatment
    • Asked: Do you have anxiety which keeps you from sleeping?
      • 97% of PCPs report asking at least sometimes
      • 57% of PWTS say they were asked
    • Asked: Do you have thoughts racing through your mind while trying to fall asleep?
      • 94% of PCPs report asking at least sometimes
      • 69% of PWTS say they were asked
  • Stigma surrounding the treatment of insomnia prevents PWTS from taking the condition seriously and seeking prescription treatment
    • 39% of PWTS (who think there is stigma surrounding the treatment of insomnia) believe insomnia is not considered to be a medical problem
    • 46% of PWTS (who think there is stigma surrounding the treatment of insomnia) say it’s because it’s believed that one should be able to fix their sleep on their own

To complement this new data from the annual Wake Up America survey, Harris Poll conducted a series of qualitative in-depth interviews (IDIs) among PWTS and their partners, discussing the impact of insomnia. The interviews exemplify the frustration and burden of insomnia, not only on the PWTS, but on their partner as well:

“We try not to yell, but when both of us have a bad night’s sleep and then it turns into a bad day, it winds up being taken out on the kids. If they are asking an innocent question and all of a sudden we just let off with a snappy answer and it just filters. It just cycles down” – Richard P., survey respondent, PWTS

“If he had a really bad sleeping night, he doesn’t want to do as much as he normally would or he’s not going to be as tolerant maybe of circumstances. So I’ve learned to kind of go without him sometimes” – Chelsea B., survey respondent, partner

Stay up-to-date on the Wake Up America: Sleeplessness at Home and Beyond survey by visiting WakeUpAmericaSurvey.com, where you can also find last year’s survey results, and the “Roadmap for Change,” which outlines additional areas of focus from The Alliance for Sleep based on last year’s Wake Up America: The Night and Day Impact of Insomnia survey results.

Footnotes

a)  PWTS who are married or living with their partner  
     b)  Believe melatonin is a treatment for insomnia (67% PWTS/70% partners/69% PCPs); Believe sleep
          hygiene is a treatment for insomnia (68% PWTS/76% partners/91% PCPs)
     c)  39%  of PWTS report always/often asked during routine visits; 67% PCPs say they always (or almost
          always)/often ask their patients

References

  1. Data on File. Wake Up America Survey Results. Idorsia. 2022
  2. Sateia M, Buysse D, Krystal A, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline for the Pharmacologic Treatment of Chronic Insomnia in Adults: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Sleep Med. 2017;13(2):307-349.
  3. Schutte-Rodin S, Broch L, Buysse D, et al. Clinical guideline for the evaluation and management of chronic insomnia in adults. J Clin Sleep Med. 2008 Oct 15;4(5):487-504.
  4. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
  5. Bhaskar
  6. Ogunwole S, Rabe M, Roberts A, et al. United States Census Bureau. Population under age 18 declined last decade. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/08/united-states-adult-population-grew-faster-than-nations-total-population-from-2010-to-2020.html.
  7. Ustinov Y, Lichstein KL, Wal GS, Taylor DJ, Riedel BW, Bush AJ. Association between report of insomnia and daytime functioning. Sleep Med. 2010 Jan;11(1):65-8. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2009.07.009. Epub 2009 Sep 23.

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