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

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

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 05, 2008
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.

What Problem Sleepers Have In Common

Ask a problem sleeper what keeps him or her up at night, and chances are you'll hear "stress" or " anxiety." The Consumer Reports survey found that high stress levels were common among problem sleepers.

Most of the time, tossing and turning was due to the following stressors:

  • Health issues
  • Family troubles
  • Money woes
  • Work worries

Alternatives to Sleeping Pills

Drugs should not be your first resort when treating sleep problems. The magazine notes that sound machines can work just as well as pills. In a parallel survey of problem sleepers, 70% said sound machines helped them nod off and stay asleep most nights. However, only half of those with the most severe insomnia said the noisemakers were helpful.

Over-the-counter sleep aids and changes in sleep behavior patterns were not as effective:

  • 57% said OTC sleeping pills helped on most nights
  • Half said a consistent sleep and wake routine made a difference on most nights
  • Muscle relaxation techniques worked for less than half (40%)

Four Tips for Getting Some Sleep

Consumer Reports offers the following tips:

  • Try non-medicated options first, such as sound machines and relaxation techniques.
  • Nix sleep-disrupting habits such as long or late-day naps, an inconsistent sleep/wake routine, eating or watching TV in bed, or eating too late at night. Don't share your bed with pets or children.
  • Buy a new mattress if yours is more than eight years old.
  • Make an appointment with your doctor if you toss and turn several nights a week for at least three months.