Insomnia: The dangers of self-diagnosis

By Paul Johnson, community pharmacist

Insomnia is a very common problem, with 1 in 3 of us having a problem with sleeping at some point in our lives. It can be extremely distressing and can cause fatigue and anxiety.

Because you’re sleeping badly it makes sense to think you have insomnia. Recent research from the RPS states that 51% of people who have diagnosed themselves with insomnia have bought sleeping remedies without getting any advice from a health professional, such as a pharmacist. This is a problem because the vast majority of insomnia relates to an underlying health issue such as anxiety, depression, asthma or heart disease.  If you don’t get good advice, this problem will remain untreated.

This research also shows that 30% of people with insomnia admitted they had taken sleeping remedies for longer than a month without getting advice, with 14% having taken them for more than six months.

It concerns me that so many people are over-using sleeping remedies.  They can be effective for short-term treatment of mild insomnia but should not be taken for long periods without advice because they can hide a serious health problem.  It’s never a good idea to take any medicine long-term as a result of self-diagnosis, as you can end up treating a symptom rather than addressing the root cause of your problem.

I would urge anyone who has been buying medicines for insomnia or any other self-diagnosed condition for over a month to check with your pharmacist. We can help you find out what’s wrong so you can get the right treatment.

There are also a range of simple techniques which can help you get a better night’s sleep such as avoiding caffeine later in the day, exercising more during the day (but not in the evening) and setting regular times to go to bed at night and get up in the morning. There are also other alternatives, such as cognitive behavioural therapy to help you learn relaxation techniques to improve your sleep.

Next time you’re thinking of buying a sleeping remedy, speak to your pharmacist first.  We can offer you the right support and the right advice to help you get a better night’s sleep.

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