Background: Chronic insomnia is a highly prevalent disorder, with ten to thirty percent of Australian adults reporting chronic difficulties falling asleep and/or staying asleep such that it causes significant daytime impairment. Current Australian general practice guidelines recommend cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTi) as first line treatment for insomnia, however research suggests that most general practice consultations for insomnia result in a prescription for hypnotic or sedative medicines. Although the first point of contact for patients experiencing symptoms of insomnia is often general practice, little is known about the current role, experiences and capacity of Australian general practitioners to manage insomnia. This study aimed to address that gap by exploring the attitudes and opinions of general practitioners regarding insomnia management, to inform the development and implementation of new models of best practice insomnia care within general practice.
Methods: A descriptive, pragmatic qualitative study. Purposive sampling was used to recruit practising Australian general practitioners, varying in age, years of experience and geographic location. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, and data analysed using thematic analysis.
Results: Twenty-eight general practitioners participated in the study. Three major themes were identified: 1) Responsibility for insomnia care; 2) Complexities in managing insomnia; and 3) Navigating treatment pathways. Whilst general practitioners readily accepted responsibility for the management of insomnia, provision of care was often demanding and difficult within the funding and time constraints of general practice. Patients presenting with comorbid mental health conditions and insomnia, and decision-making regarding long-term use of benzodiazepines presented challenges for general practitioners. Whilst general practitioners confidently provided sleep hygiene education to patients, their knowledge and experience of CBTi, and access and understanding of specialised referral pathways for insomnia was limited.
Conclusions: General practitioners report that whilst assessing and managing insomnia can be demanding, it is an integral part of general practice. Insomnia presents complexities for general practitioners. Greater clarity about funding options, targeted education about effective insomnia treatments, and referral pathways to specialist services, such as benzodiazepine withdrawal support and psychologists, would benefit insomnia management within general practice.