How Insomnia Treatments Improve Lives and Save Money

Despite being the most prevalent sleep ailment among adults living in all industrialised nations, a lot of insomnia sufferers are deliberately choosing not to get the treatment they need. In fact, research shows that insomnia is a significantly underdiagnosed disorder, and many people--whether they recognise the symptoms or not--take a lone-wolf approach to their sleeping problems.

Typically, someone with insomnia will muddle through their waking hours. They continually struggle with the lack of sleep, while investing enormous effort and energy trying to keep up their focus and productivity levels during the day. Then at night, they try their best to cobble together some kind of half-way effective sleep routine, often relying on over-the-counter sleeping aids, supplements or alcohol to help them rest.


The dire consequences of insomnia on our personal health, safety and overall productivity are well documented. And that's not to mention the detrimental impact the disorder has on our quality of life. But the financial toll insomnia can have on entire economies is something that is mostly overlooked. Now a recent review in the US found that the economic expenses associated with insomnia are staggering.


Figures for the UK are vague, but the costs to the US economy that are directly related to insomnia come to over $100 billion annually. This figure is largely due to an increased reliance on health-care, a reduction in productivity, and more frequent accidents and injuries.


There has been a mass of research on the therapeutic effectiveness of treatments for insomnia, including how those treatments can improve the quality of life and boost our health and wellness levels in general. However, measuring the actual cost-effectiveness of insomnia treatments has received far less attention. During their review, the US researchers found clear and consistent proof that multiple forms of therapy methods for insomnia could save our modern economies, (i.e. the taxpayer,) enormous sums of money.


But what makes a treatment for insomnia financially viable? To answer the question, we must first look at how the researchers gauged the cost-effectiveness of the procedures. In the US, the Quality Adjusted Life Year, or QALY, is a standard tool used to assess the financial impact of health treatments, and it takes into account not only the amount of 'time' invested in an insomnia therapy but the 'quality' of that treatment too.


The measurement enables researchers, policymakers, and taxpayer bodies to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of a health procedure, first on its own, and then in comparison to other healthcare treatments. The recent review examined ten different studies which according to the QALY method, provided data to conclude that treatment for insomnia disorders is indeed highly cost-effective.


The review showed that treatment with prescription sleep medications could be financially efficient, (in terms of both cost and treatment,) and included some of the most common prescription sleeping aids. Further, treating insomnia with prescription drugs reduced the cost of workplace absenteeism, lowered expenses related to accidents and injuries, and eased the cost of healthcare overall.


Of course, prescription drugs are not the only way to treat insomnia. Behavioural treatments such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) seek to tackle the sleep disorder by changing the actions, habits, emotions and thoughts that influence our sleep. According to the research, CBT can be just as effective as medication in reducing the symptoms of insomnia, especially during a course of long-term treatment.


But how does CBT for insomnia compare financially with the cost of pharmaceutical treatment? One study which looked at the two procedures in a group of older adults showed that CBT was significantly more cost-effective than pharmacotherapy, with both treatments resulting in lower costs and higher savings as a result of treatment. The major factor in the increased cost-effectiveness of CBT for more mature adults resulted from the lowered risk of injury from falls, cited the researchers.


And while a single study on its own is nowhere near enough to proclaim CBT more financially sensible than over-the-counter drugs for the more mature adult, it does make essential arguments in favour of CBT. Based on the research, The GSA, (Geriatrics Society of America,) for example, has been prompted to promote a limited use of the most popular and readily available medications, suggesting that the drugs deliver minimal benefits while increasing the likelihood of injuries through falls and instances of delirium in the elderly. As the reviewers noted, insomnia among elder patients has the potential for significant global economic impact, both now and in the future.


If nothing else, the research has demonstrated that determining the level of financial viability among the various insomnia cures needs a lot more scrutiny. The US team called for a broader investigation into calculating the improvements that treating insomnia can contribute to productivity in the workplace. And with good reason: their assessment of the overall costs of sleep disorders suggests that the majority of insomnia-related expenses in North America alone is well over $67 billion per year.


And while healthcare professionals know a great deal about how insomnia impacts workplace safety and performance, they are still sadly lagging in providing substantial proof of how insomnia treatment can lower costs in these areas.


Measuring the direct and indirect cost of treatments should be regarded as a crucial component in all insomnia trials, concluded the study. The wealth of generated data would provide a firm base for further exploration of the cost-effectiveness of the various treatments. It would also help to create common ground in the thinking among healthcare bodies, scientists, policymakers, and of course, taxpayers, by shedding light on the characteristics of the disorder and its treatment, as well as the financial burdens that can be linked directly back to these factors.


The US review is a necessary acknowledgement of the financial pressures evident in today’s healthcare markets. The findings could be a step towards significant advances in developing more accessible and efficient insomnia therapies, while at the same time reducing the cost of those treatments to society. Which, in the end, is a win/win for both patients and taxpayers alike.

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