It seems Americans are finally saying no to sleep medications. A team of researchers has seen a declining trend in the use of the drugs in recent years.
There was a “rapid rise” in the use of sleep medications over the last few decades, the University of Florida (UF) noted in a news release. Some of the reasons behind this increase is “direct-to-consumer” marketing, as well as people’s better awareness about the importance of sleep on health.
As a result, there have been various efforts to increase people’s awareness of the possible adverse effects of sleep medications, researchers wrote in the paper, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Steps were also taken to discourage the “over-prescription” of such medications.
“(H)owever, it is unknown whether these efforts translated into a decline in use of these medications in the United States,” they wrote. “We assessed recent national trends in the use of medications used for sleep disturbance.”
Data from 29,400 participants in the 2013-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that usage of medications for sleep disturbance actually dropped by 31% from 2013 to 2018. The strongest decline was in Food and Drug Administration-approved medications, which saw a 55% drop.
This was most prominent in the group of people aged 80 and above, who are most vulnerable to falls that could lead to injury when they use sleep medications, researchers said. In this age group, the use of sleep medications dropped a whopping 86% during the study period.
According to the researchers, this could possibly be an effect of the efforts taken to raise awareness about these drugs.
“I was surprised and encouraged by the results because there’s been a great deal of effort to minimize the long-term use of these pharmaceutical agents,” study author Christopher Kaufmann, of UF, said in the news release. “We’ve seen deprescribing initiatives. A number of medical organizations, advocacy groups and policymakers have also strongly discouraged the use of these drugs to treat insomnia due to potential adverse outcomes associated with their use.”
For instance, some people end up experiencing a “hangover” the day after taking sleep medications, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They can experience drowsiness, “muddled thinking” or have balance problems. Not only can this impact their performance at school or work, but it may also prove to be problematic for tasks like driving.
The findings of the study show a “good” trend, said study senior author Atul Malhotra, of the University of California, San Diego. However, he clarified that the drugs aren’t necessarily “inappropriate” for everyone.
“I think these medications can be quite useful for some patients,” Malhotra said. “There is a stigma attached to being on Valium or Ambien long-term. People think it’s a problem. And I’d certainly rather not be on those medications than on them. But we need to remember there also is a risk with having untreated insomnia. There are ill effects of poor sleep that can’t be ignored.”
The team also noted the need for further research into whether the move away from drug usage actually led to “improved population sleep health.”