Co-morbid insomnia and sleep apnea (COMISA) is a highly prevalent and debilitating disorder, which results in additive impairments to patients’ sleep, daytime functioning, and quality of life, and complex diagnostic and treatment decisions for clinicians. Although the presence of COMISA was first recognized by Christian Guilleminault and colleagues in 1973, it received very little research attention for almost three decades, until the publication of two articles in 1999 and 2001 which collectively reported a 30%–50% co-morbid prevalence rate, and re-ignited research interest in the field. Since 1999, there has been an exponential increase in research documenting the high prevalence, common characteristics, treatment complexities, and bi-directional relationships of COMISA. Recent trials indicate that co-morbid insomnia symptoms may be treated with cognitive and behavioral therapy for insomnia, to increase acceptance and use of continuous positive airway pressure therapy. Hence, the treatment of COMISA appears to require nuanced diagnostic considerations, and multi-faceted treatment approaches provided by multi-disciplinary teams of psychologists and physicians. In this narrative review, we present a brief overview of the history of COMISA research, describe the importance of measuring and managing insomnia symptoms in the presence of sleep apnea, discuss important methodological and diagnostic considerations for COMISA, and review several recent randomized controlled trials investigating the combination of CBTi and CPAP therapy. We aim to provide clinicians with pragmatic suggestions and tools to identify, and manage this prevalent COMISA disorder in clinical settings, and discuss future avenues of research to progress the field.
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