Women, older adults and low-income people more likely to use sleep medication despite potential health harms



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Millions of Americans say they regularly turn to prescription drugs to help them fall or stay asleep, a practice experts say could be dangerous to their health. A new study found that nearly 8% of US adults reported taking sleep medication every day or most days, with use more common among those who are women, those who are older or those with lower income levels. Is.

The data brief released Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics analyzed sleep medicine use data from more than 30,549 US adults, collected by the National Health Interview Survey in 2020 .

The researchers defined sleep drug use as taking any medicine, whether prescription or over-the-counter, to help fall or stay asleep most days or every day in the previous 30 days.

They found that women were more likely to take sleep medication than men across all age, race and ethnicity, and income groups. Sleep medication use was also highest among older adults, with 11.9% of those 65 and older saying they used a sleep aid every night or most nights.

Sleep medication use fell as family income increased, from 10% among adults below the federal poverty level to 8.2% among those making two or more times the federal poverty level.

“Previous research has found similar associations,” noted study co-author Lindsay Black, a researcher at the National Center for Health Statistics. “This report is useful for documenting the most recent prevalence estimates of sleep medication use by adults and for confirming that these differences still remain.”

Psychiatrist and sleep medicine physician Dr. Nishi Bhopal says these findings are worrying for a few reasons.

“In women, sleep issues are often misdiagnosed. I see this in my clinical practice, where women may be diagnosed with insomnia when they actually have sleep apnea, because sleep apnea is more common in men. may show up very differently in women than in men,” said Bhopal, who was not involved in the new study.

Bhopal also found worrying that the highest use of sleep medications occurred among older adults, for whom they are not typically recommended.

“Sleeping pills have a lot of side effects, and older adults are at a higher risk of experiencing negative effects from these drugs. These include confusion, increased risk of falls, broken bones, and even cognitive issues like dementia. There is also a higher risk involved. And so to see that the highest rate of use in this population is worrying.”

He added that “it is surprising, but it is not surprising” that sleep medication use increased with lower income. other research People with higher rates of financial stress and debt have been found to have more sleep problems and are more likely to be prescribed sleep medications.

Experts say sleep medications can be helpful tools when used for their intended purpose. They can be useful for people who are going through intense stress that makes it difficult to sleep, such as divorce, job loss, or bereavement.

“It’s really important that we support patients in the best way possible, because insomnia can lead to depression and anxiety,” Bhopal said. “So sleeping pills can be really useful in that context, but using them for more than two weeks is not recommended.”

Using sleep medication every day can lead to problems such as tolerance, in which the body physically requires higher doses of the drug, or dependence, in which stopping the drug triggers withdrawal-like symptoms. People may also have rebound insomnia, meaning they can’t fall asleep without medication.

Just like lack of sleep, persistent sleep medication use can have serious health consequences.

research found that older people who regularly take sedative-hypnotic drugs have a five times higher risk of memory and concentration issues and Fourfold higher risk of daytime fatigue and sleepiness, which can lead to poorer work performance or a higher risk of car accidents.

Bhopal recommends using sleep medications “at the lowest dose necessary, for the shortest possible time. While we work on good behavior strategies and address other issues contributing to their sleep problems, We will try to use them intermittently for support.

Those behavioral strategies include setting a consistent sleep schedule, getting regular exercise, managing stress during the day, and limiting caffeine and alcohol in the evening.

For those who have difficulty sleeping, Bhopal says cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia can help.

“CBTI is the first-line gold standard treatment for chronic insomnia. It is much more than sleep hygiene. It actually addresses the issues that perpetuate insomnia, and it helps people to change their thoughts about their sleep. It helps to rebuild sleep, and it also gives them very practical tools to help restore their own kind of natural sleep-wake cycle.

If you’re struggling with persistent sleep problems, talk to your doctor to identify possible root causes.

“I think the main thing is not to be afraid to talk to your doctor about your sleep issues,” Bhopal said, “and asking about cognitive behavioral insomnia, asking about sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and sleep apnea.” Asking about the syndrome, if you think you have any of these conditions.

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