Sleep is essential for maintaining good cognitive and physical health, and in children and adolescents, it contributes to a large part of their growth and development. Regularly experiencing inadequate or dissatisfactory sleep, which includes problems initiating or maintaining sleep, can significantly affect a person’s quality of life and compromise how they function in daily life. This state of frequent poor sleep defines insomnia, which can last from months to years; in either circumstance, insomnia interferes with a person’s ability to work, learn, and interact.

Insomnia is associated with multi-morbidity, the co-existence of two or more chronic health conditions, which is often tied to polypharmacy, reduced quality of life, and even early mortality. A recent study by Gibson, Lawlor, and Millard, published in BMC Medicine in April 2023, used data from the UK Biobank to produce novel findings that showed the numerous potentially causal effects of insomnia on adverse health outcomes and behaviours such as anxiety, depression, addiction, pain, and negative body composition traits, including respiratory, musculoskeletal, and cardiovascular problems.

GlobalData epidemiologists forecast that by the end of 2023, there will be close to 2.5 million diagnosed prevalent cases of men and women aged 15 and older who will suffer from acute insomnia in the UK.

Given the widespread prevalence of insomnia and its association with developing adverse mental and physical health outcomes, a public health focus on treating insomnia could effectively reduce the disease burden caused by insomnia and its associated negative health traits.

Gibson, Lawlor, and Millard performed the Mendelian randomisation phenome-wide association study on 336,975 unrelated White-British UK Biobank participants to assess for causal relationships between insomnia symptoms and a wide range of adverse health outcomes.

The researchers derived 11,409 variables from the baseline and follow-up questionnaires and assessments: 47% of the participants self-reported insomnia as a common occurrence, and 28% self-reported insomnia as a usual occurrence. Of the 11,409 associations, 437 were identified as potential causal effects, which included negative mental states of anxiety, stress, depression, mania, and addiction. Immune, respiratory, endocrine, dental, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and reproductive body composition issues were also identified along with socioeconomic and behavioural traits.

Around 32% of the associations between insomnia symptoms and mental health-related outcomes were identified as potential causal effects; the higher percentages of potential causal effects were seen with depression (38%), anxiety (48%), general (33%), well-being (87%), suicide and self-harm (24%), and mania (19%). Regarding associations between insomnia symptoms and physical health-related outcomes (3%) were identified as potential causal effects; those included pain (30%) and body composition (19%).

Another estimation GlobalData epidemiologists have made is that by the end of 2023 there will be 4.85 million 12-month-diagnosed prevalent cases of major depressive disorders in the UK in men and women 18 years or older; that number is projected to increase to just over 4.95 million in 2029.

The UK’s National Health Service estimates that one in three people in the UK will have insomnia at some point in their lifetime. It is evident that insomnia poses both a domestic and global public health threat, especially as several mental and physical adverse health traits have recently been identified as potential causal effects of insomnia symptoms. The effective treatment of insomnia through recommended therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, to treat the condition, could advantageously alleviate the disease burden caused by other health conditions that stem from insomnia.