Steven Reid, Ph.D., of Imperial College in London, lead author of the review, says that "given the prevalence of anxiety and depression reported in HIV infection, it is not surprising that psychiatric disorders should be associated with sleep disturbance in this group."
Patients in the last stages of HIV infection with full-blown AIDS and those who have suffered some kind of brain impairment as a result of the disease are also more likely to suffer from insomnia, the reviewers conclude in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.
"The studies reviewed here illustrate that although insomnia is a frequent complaint in people living with HIV, there is considerable uncertainty about its cause and significance," Reid says.
Earlier studies suggested that patients with HIV had changes in periods of REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep, along with other sleep rhythm changes, that may have led to insomnia.
When Reid and colleague reviewed those studies, however, they found that very small numbers of participants and inconsistent findings.
More recent studies rely on patients' reports about their own sleep habits and disturbances, including whether they had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, their frequency of nightmares, whether they were tired in the day or whether they used sleeping pills to help them rest.
Those studies revealed a "consistent and strong relationship" between psychological problems, particularly depression, and insomnia in HIV patients, say the reviewers.
Health care workers should pay more attention to diagnosing and treating anxiety and depression in people with HIV as a way to prevent insomnia, "given that psychiatric disorders are often missed in general medical settings," Reid says.