Insomnia: your responsibilities as a pharmacist

Insomnia is a common problem, placing a serious burden on society and the healthcare system. A recent report revealed that the direct and indirect costs of sleep disorders to the Australian health care system amount to more than $5.1 million annually. The cost in terms of reduction of quality of life is equivalent to $31.4 billion dollars a year.1 Millions of Australians each year will consult with their pharmacist as a trusted source of medical advice to help alleviate their suffering from insomnia. So what can you do to help when asked about overcoming sleeplessness?


How insomnia can cause harm

Chronic insomnia can cause a range of problems including:

  • Mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety (which themselves can cause or exacerbate insomnia)

  • Weight gain and obesity

  • Poor performance at school or work

  • A slowed reaction time leading to a higher risk of accidents

  • Impaired immune system function

  • Increased risk for diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes

What you can do

Pharmacists are in a good position to evaluate whether customers’ sleeping habits are contributing to their insomnia or whether there is another underlying issue. Questions to ask customers who complain of insomnia include:

  • Do you drink coffee or other drinks containing caffeine in the evening?

  • Do you engage in stimulating activities (eg, competitive sports, vigorous exercise, arguments) just prior to bedtime?

  • When sleep is elusive, do you lay in bed or, as is recommended, get up and perform a non-stimulating activity for 30 minutes or until sleepy?

  • Do you suffer from any chronic conditions?

  • Are you under more stress than usual at the moment?

  • What medications are you taking? (It’s important to check and see if insomnia is a known side-effect of any medications the customer is taking).

  • Do you take medicines as directed? (Some medicines can alter sleep/wakefulness patterns and taking medicines at the wrong time can make this worse).

Insomnia is a common issue that many Australians will seek to pharmacists for professional advice. As a pharmacist, you need to be ready to provide answers that will best guide the customer to a more peaceful sleeping cycle. If the customer is still experiencing issues, they may need additional advice and should consult their GP.

Adam Shakespeare