The number of people who report that they are suffering from insomnia is increasing each year, according to data from the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service on Monday.
Visitors to doctors due to insomnia increased from 461,790 in 2014 to 560,855 in 2017, reaching 400,035 in the first half of last year alone. Prescriptions of sleeping pills also rose from 1.23 million in 2014 to 1.6 million in 2017.
One reason may be that Korean society is aging, and older people find it harder to go to sleep. But insomnia complaints are also rising among people in their 20s and 30s, mostly from depression and anxiety.
Insomnia patients among women in their 20s and 30s increased only five percent over the last four years, but among men it surged 25 percent.
"In Korean society, men tend to suffer from more stress than women if they fail to find a job," Na Hae-ran at St. Mary's Hospital in Seoul said. "Some men in their 20s suffer from even more stress since they face being drafted into the military."
Insomnia is also impacting middle-aged people, particularly women undergoing menopause. One out of five people who went to see a doctor for insomnia in 2017 were women in their 50s. Many of them complained about other symptoms of the menopause, such as hot flushes as well as depression.
Many retired men in their 60s and 70s suffer from insomnia because they no longer lead such active lives. Choi Tae-kyu at CHA Medical Center in Bundang said, "People usually go through changes in their lifestyles after retirement. Also, they sleep less when they get older. So many retired people go to bed early and wake up early but then can't find anything to do."
But another reason for the increasing statistics is growing awareness of insomnia as an ailment. In the past, most people passed it off as a simple nuisance.
Doctors recommend searching for the fundamental cause of insomnia rather than relying on sedatives. "If insomnia is caused by depression or anxiety, treating such illnesses will effectively fix it," Choi said.
The same goes for insomnia caused by work stress, jet lag and working night shifts. Prolonged use of sleeping pills increases tolerance, requiring higher doses.