According to data released in January, about 20% of U.S. adults may take medication — occasionally or regularly — to help them fall asleep or stay asleep.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that approximately 8.4% of adults in the United States take medicine either every day or most days to stay up or fall asleep, according to a summary from the National Center for Health Statistics.
An additional 10% of adults are likely to take as well sleep medicine “a few days” to either fall or sleep.
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“The recent report that up to 20% of Americans are using medication to help them sleep is alarming,” said Dr. Baljinder S. Sidhu, a pulmonologist and sleep specialist who co-owns Pacific Coast Critical Care Group in Mr. Southern California.
He added that this is alarming, “especially given the growing evidence of harm or death associated with such drugs, even when used in the short term.”
The results of the study came from health examination which asked participants if they had taken medication for sleep in the past 30 days.
“In 2020, 6.3% of adults took sleeping pills every day in the past 30 days, 2.1% took the medication most days, 10.0% took the medication some days, and 81.6% never took the medication,” it said. in the report.
Women in all age groups were more likely to take sleeping pills than men.
“Among all adults, sleep medication use increased with age, decreased with income, and was higher among non-Hispanic white adults compared to adults of other races and Hispanic origins,” the report noted regarding the main findings.
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Researchers analyzed data from the 2020 National Health Survey among adults age 18 and older to determine the percentage of men and women who used sleep medication.
Sleep medication was defined “as taking any medication that helps you fall asleep or stay asleep most days or every day in the past 30 days, based on selected sociodemographic characteristics,” the report said.
More details from the research results
The study found that adults taking sleep medication increased with age, “ranging from 5.6% of those aged 18-44 to 10.1% of those aged 45-64 and 11.9% of those aged 65 and older,” according to the study. reports.
Women were more frequent take sleep medication than men in all age groups.
White men were the most likely to use sleep medication compared to Asian men – who were the least likely.
Men with the highest family income were the least likely to use sleep medication.
Men with the highest family income were the least likely to use sleeping pills low and middle income groups.
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“Latinos were more likely than non-Hispanic Asians to take medication for sleep, while the groups did not differ among women,” the report noted.
Why do people have trouble sleeping?
The CDC notes on its website that there are three common sleep problems.
Common problems: 1) difficulty falling asleep; 2) difficulties with maintaining sleep; and 3) waking up too early.
The human body has an internal clock that resets itself each day according to the cycle of sunlight and darkness, according to the CDC.
This clock has a 24-hour circadian rhythm that helps us fall asleep and wake up.
The Sleep Foundation states that sleep medications should not be the first line of treatment for insomnia.
A hormone called melatonin peaks in our bodies early in the morning, around 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., and production stops later in the morning, according to the CDC website.
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“Normally, the body increases [the] melatonin levels in the evening one to two hours before bedtime,” the CDC added.
Melatonin can be purchased in supplement form or by prescription, but the CDC cautions that it must be taken at the right time for your sleep cycle—otherwise it can shift your internal clock in the wrong direction or have no effect.
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The Sleep Foundation notes that sleep medications should not be the first line of treatment for insomnia.
“Because they can be addictive and often have side effects, the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend using other methods before turning to pharmaceutical sleep aids,” according to the Sleep Foundation’s website.
Studies have estimated that the risk of death from sleeping pills increases 1.5-5 times.
“Non-drug/prescription treatments, e.g cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), light therapy if needed, etc. should be done before resorting to sleeping pills,” said Dr. Sidhu from California.
Use sleeping pills with caution
Sidhu noted that studies have estimated a 1.5- to 5-fold greater risk of death from sleeping pills.
Sleep medications “can give a false sense of what normal sleep should feel like.”
“What’s more, sleep medications have even been linked to poor daytime functioning and disruption of normal sleep architecture (our normal sleep patterns),” he said.
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These medications “can give a false sense of what normal sleep should feel like, further contributing to the belief that sleep is not restorative unless they are in a medicated coma.”
That could lead people to seek stronger drugs for “quality” sleep, he noted.
“One of those extreme cases where an anesthetic was used to fight insomnia for a celebrityled to his death.”
Sidhu recommends getting a thorough screening for insomnia first.
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This includes exclusion of depressionhormonal imbalances – such as from thyroid disease or menopause – and side effects of medications.
It also means looking at underlying medical problems, including chronic conditions, that may play a role in sleep problems.
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“Treating the underlying disease may have a more positive effect on sleep,” he said.