America, How Are You Sleeping?

Prescription sleeping medication usage varies in US by characteristics of individuals

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Having difficulty sleeping can seep into all aspects of a person's life. It's not uncommon for adults to turn to medications to help them get some shut-eye. How many use prescriptions for this issue?

A recent report provided information on how common prescription sleep aid use is in the US.

The report looked at the use of a wide range of prescription medications used for insomnia or to help one sleep.

Although the average use across the US was four percent among adults, the percentage varied based on individuals' age, level of education, sex and race.

"Ask your doctor about insomnia treatments."

The study, led by Yinong Chong, PhD, of the National Center for Health Statistics at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported the use of prescription sleep medications used by Americans in the past month before the survey.

Prescription sleep medications were defined as any of the following hypnotic drugs:

In addition, those who reported using the following antidepressants (which have a sedative effect) in the previous 30 days were included: amitriptyline (Elavil), doxepin (Sinequan, Adapin, Silenor), mirtazapine (Remeron), and trazodone (Oleptro).

The researchers used data from the National Health and Examination Survey, a nationwide survey involving approximately 5,000 adults each year.

The data from each annual survey from 2005 through 2010 was analyzed for this report.

The researchers found that approximately 4 percent of US adults, aged 20 and older, had used prescription sleep medications within the previous month.

The older a person was and the more education they had, the more likely they were to have used a prescription sleep medication.

For example, about 1.8 percent of those aged 20 to 39 had used a prescription sleep medicine, compared to 7 percent of those aged 80 and older.

In between these two extremes, 4.9 percent of those aged 40 to 49, 6 percent of those aged 50 to 59, 5.5 percent of those aged 60 to 69, and 5.7 percent of those aged 70 to 79 had used a prescription sleep medication in the previous month.

About 4.4 percent of those with more than a high school education had used sleep medications, compared to 3 percent of those with less than a high school degree, and 3.9 percent of those with a high school degree or GED.

In addition, women were much more likely than men to use sleep medications. The percentage of women using these medications in the previous month was 5 percent, compared to 3.1 percent of men.

Prescribed sleep medication was also most common among non-Hispanic whites, 4.7 percent of whom used them in the past month.

Among non-Hispanic blacks, 2.5 percent had used a sleep medicine in the previous month, and 2 percent of Mexican Americans had used one.

Those getting seven hours of sleep — the minimum recommendation for adults by the National Sleep Foundation — were least likely to have used sleep medications (3.2 percent).

Those getting five hours or less of sleep or getting nine or more hours were more likely to have used prescription sleep medications.

While 6 percent of those who got five hours or less of sleep used the medications, 5.3 percent of those who got nine hours or more had used them.

Unsurprisingly, rates of sleep medication use were highest among those with diagnosed sleep disorders (16.3 percent) or those who reported having trouble sleeping (12.7 percent).

"According to estimates, 50–70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders or deprivation, which can not only hinder daily functioning, but can also adversely affect their health," the report noted.

"Prescription sleep aids are one of the treatment options for trouble going into or maintaining sleep," the report stated. "However, long-term use of sleep aids has been linked to adverse outcomes in health."

Just because prescription sleep medications are available does not mean they should be the first treatment for insomnia, according to William Kohler, MD, the director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida.

"Basically, all medications have potential side effects, so the first line of treatment should be behavior and lifestyle changes with good sleep hygiene practices," Dr. Kohler said.

"If behavioral techniques have been tried and you continue to have problems with sleep that are affecting how you function, I would suggest going to your primary care physician and seek his advice," he said.

Dr. Kohler also recommended seeking out information on the website of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine regarding healthy sleep hygiene that can improve the quality of your sleep.

"If your primary care doctor is unable to help you, then go to a sleep specialist," Dr. Kohler said. "As far as medications go, we like to use them but all have possible risks, and behavioral changes have better long-term effectiveness."

Dr. Kohler noted that another risk of medications, whether prescribed or over-the-counter, is that they can interact with other medications you are taking.

"It's best to run everything through your primary care doctor before you embark on your own to self-medicate," Dr. Kohler said.

The report was published August 29 by the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC.

The report was internally funded. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
September 4, 2013
Last Updated:
September 5, 2013