Sleeping pill use continues to rise in the US

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By Dr. Simon Kyle

A recent study has comprehensively profiled the prevalence of sleeping pill use in the United States.

Writing in the journal SLEEP, Dr Bertisch and colleagues examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2010), which sampled over 32,000 people aged 20+. Participants were interviewed in their own home and asked “in the past 30 days, have you used or taken a medication for which a prescription is needed?” Medication details were noted and then checked, in person, by the interviewer. Medications were subsequently coded according to whether they were commonly used for insomnia [including z-drugs (e.g. Zolpidem) and benzodiazepines (e.g. Flurazepam].

The main results were that 3% (906) of the sample (which, when extrapolated, would reflect 6 million adults in the US) reported using at least one prescription medication commonly used for insomnia in the past month.

Prescription use was highest in those aged 80+ (5% of this group ingested insomnia-related medications) and more common in females, those who had visited a mental health provider, and those with poor self-reported health status.

Interestingly, insomnia medication use increased from 2% in 1999-2000 to 3.5% in 2009-2010. The two most common insomnia medications were Z-drugs and Trazodone.

The majority (55%) of participants taking insomnia related sleep aids also reported taking additional sedative medications (e.g. opioids and non-insomnia indicated benzodiazepines).

Bertisch, S.M., Herzig, S.J., Winkelman, J.W., Buettner, C. (2014). National use of prescription medications for insomnia: NHANES 1999-2010. SLEEP, 37(2), 343-349.

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