Background: Insomnia is frequent in the general population and is often related to a psychiatric illness. However, little is known about how the chronicity of insomnia affects this relation and how often subjects with chronic insomnia have antecedents of psychiatric disorders.
Methods: A total of 14,915 subjects aged from 15 to 100 years representative of the general population of the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Portugal were interviewed by telephone using the Sleep-EVAL system. The questionnaire assessed current psychiatric disorders according to the DSM-IV classification and a series of questions assessed the psychiatric history. Insomnia was considered as chronic when it lasted for 6 months or more.
Results: The prevalence for insomnia accompanied with impaired daytime functioning was 19.1% and significantly increased with age. More than 90% of these subjects had a chronic insomnia. About 28% of subjects with insomnia had a current diagnosis of mental disorders and 25.6% had a psychiatric history. A DSM-IV insomnia disorder was found in 6.6% of the sample. Presence of severe insomnia, diagnosis of primary insomnia or insomnia related to a medical condition, and insomnia that lasted more than one year were predictors of a psychiatric history. In most cases of mood disorders, insomnia appeared before (> 40%) or in the same time (> 22%) than mood disorder symptoms. When anxiety disorders were involved, insomnia appeared mostly in the same time (>38%) or after (> 34%) the anxiety disorder.
Conclusions: The study shows that psychiatric history is closely related to the severity and chronicity of current insomnia. Moreover, chronic insomnia can be a residual symptom of a previous mental disorder and put these subjects to a higher risk of relapse.