Good Night’s Sleep Eludes Many in U.S.

Restless Nights Prompt Many to Pop Sleeping Pills Too Quickly and Too Often, Survey Shows

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 5, 2008 -- If hitting the hay means popping a pill, you're not alone. A new Consumer Reports survey shows that many Americans are "problem sleepers" and one in five uses sleep medicine at least once a week to help them nod off.

The findings are based on a survey of 1,466 adults in the United States by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in April 2008. Half of the respondents admitted having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early the night before. Forty-four percent said they had at least one of these issues at least eight nights in the previous month, making them "problem sleepers."

The poll also revealed that many people opt for sleeping pills too quickly instead of first trying non-medication remedies.

"What people don't realize is these medications can pose a host of side effects, including daytime drowsiness, even bizarre behavior like sleep-walking, sleep-eating, and sleep-driving. There are alternative treatments, such as sound machines, that may be quite effective, yet pose no risks at all," Tod Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports, says in a news release.

Prescription sleep aids are usually recommended for less than two weeks, although doctors may prescribe them for longer. Last year, doctors wrote 24 million prescriptions for the four best-selling sleep aids, including Ambien CR and Lunesta.

The sleep habits survey found that an alarming 38% of those who'd taken a prescription sleeping pill in the last month have been doing so for more than two years. Other findings:

  • 14% of respondents used a sleeping pill at least eight of the past 30 nights
  • 5% said they took a sleeping pill every night
  • Most (63%) who took sleeping pills said they've experienced side effects

The most popular prescription sleep aids are promoted as non-addictive, but long-term use can lead to dependency. That means you eventually need higher and higher doses in order to feel the drug's effects. Nearly a quarter (24%) of those surveyed who took such medicines reported becoming dependent. Slightly less (21%) said that the drug didn't work as well with repeated use.

The survey findings will be published in the September 2008 issue of the magazine.