‘Sometimes, it's easier to write the prescription’: physician and patient accounts of the reluctant medicalisation of sleeplessness

Mairead Eastin Moloney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations

Abstract

The medicalisation of sleep is a rich and growing area of sociological interest. Previous research suggests that medicalisation is occurring within the context of physician office visits, but the inner workings remain unclear. This study is the first to provide perspectives on the office visit interaction from both sleepless patients (n = 27) and the physicians (n = 8) who treat them. Analyses of semi-structured qualitative interviews reveal that sleep-related conversations are typically patient-initiated in routine office visits. Physicians and patients conceptualised insomnia as a symptom of another issue (depression), an everyday problem of living (stress) or the result of a natural life process (aging). Lack of sleep was not necessarily linked to daytime impairment. Even though sleep aids were routinely requested and prescribed, patients and physicians consistently expressed attitudes of reluctance toward the use of sedative hypnotics. I call this a case of ‘reluctant medicalisation’ and highlight the liminal space between pathology and normalcy inhabited by patients and physicians. I also build on recent work acknowledging the dynamics between macro and micro levels of medicalisation and illustrate the influence of multilevel ‘engines’ (consumerism, biotechnology, managed care and physicians) in patients’ and physicians’ accounts. A virtual abstract of this paper can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/7uLHOJPHF0I.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-348
Number of pages16
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Volume39
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness

Keywords

  • medicalisation
  • qualitative interviewing
  • sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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