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  • The percentage of people using sleeping pills in the U.S. has doubled since 2010, according to a new study.
  • About 8.4% of adults use sleeping pills according to the CDC.
  • Women are more likely to use the pills with 1 in 10 reporting using sleep aids.

Millions of Americans regularly take sleeping pills to get a good night’s sleep.

New data from the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found that about 8.4% of adults take sleep medications most nights to help them fall and stay asleep. 

The trend was most pronounced in women and older adults. 

The new findings highlight just how common sleep medications have come in the United States.

A CDC report looking at sleep medication use between 2005 and 2010 found that just 4% of adults used sleep aids — which, back then, was also more common among women and older adults.

Dr. Thomas Kilkenny, DO, the director of the Institute Sleep Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital, believes stress is to blame. 

Research from 2021 found that the vast majority of Americans (84%) experienced significant stress. 

“Stress from family life, financial stresses, illness especially with the COVID pandemic all can alter one’s ability to fall and stay sleep,” Kilkenny, who was not involved in the study, told Healthline.

Women and older adults are most likely to take sleeping pills

The researchers surveyed over 30,000 Americans about their sleep medication use in 2020. 

The questionnaire asked participants if they used sleeping aids, either prescription or over-the-counter (OTC), most days or every day over the past 30 days. 

The research team found that 1 in 10 women took sleeping medications regularly. 

They also found that sleeping pill use increased with age— for example, 5.6% of people between the ages of 18 to 44 took sleeping medications compared to 11.9% of people 65 and older. 

Men, in general, were less likely than women to take sleeping medications, and men with the highest incomes were the least likely to take sleeping medications.

Sleeping pills were most commonly used among White adults (10.4%), followed by Black adults (6.1%), Hispanic adults (4.6%), and, rarely, Asian adults (2.8%). 

Insomnia often coexists with mental health conditions, and it’s known that women are more often diagnosed with mental health conditions compared to men, according to Sarah McBane, PharmD, a health sciences clinical professor and founding associate dean for pharmacy education at the University of California, Irvine School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Older adults, too, are more likely to have health issues that reduce the quality of their sleep.

“For example, an older adult with heart failure is likely to be prescribed a diuretic (or water pill) which might interrupt their sleep due to frequent urination,” McBane said.

It’s also worth noting that the data was collected during the pandemic, so there’s a chance the pandemic, and the unique stressors it was linked to, could have impacted the findings, McBane noted.

What experts want you to know about sleep medications 

Kilkenny isn’t too surprised that a significant percentage of Americans rely on sleep medications.

“Given the stresses of current life it is not surprising that adults find the need to take medication in order to fall asleep,” Kilkenny told Healthline.

“Stress from family life, financial stresses, illness especially with the COVID pandemic all can alter one’s ability to fall and stay sleep,” Kilkenny told Healthline.

McBane says many patients in her practice use sleep medications to help with insomnia. 

Sleeping pills essentially quiet the function of various neurons, which helps people fall and stay asleep. 

For people with insomnia, sleeping pills can improve their health and quality of life. 

“Insomnia can negatively impact many things – quality of life, work and school performance, mental health,” McBane said, adding that it can also increase people’s risk of chronic conditions like heart disease. 

Though the CDC’s report found that sleeping pill use increased with age, older adults have a higher chance of experiencing adverse side effects from sleep medications.  

Research has shown, for example, that people 60 and older are more likely to experience cognitive issues, psychomotor problems, and daytime fatigue when they take sleeping pills.

Some people may experience hallucinations or develop depression or suicide ideation. 

One of the main risks is dependence. 

“Taking the drug for too many nights in a row can lead to a dependency where the person may not be able to fall asleep at all without taking a sleeping pill,” Kilkenny said. 

What to consider when taking sleeping pills 

McBane says sleep hygiene is important for our overall health and it should always be evaluated when someone is experiencing difficult falling and staying asleep. 

Good sleep habits — like avoiding electronics before bedtime, sticking to a sleep-wake routine, avoiding caffeine in the late afternoons, and limiting naps — can improve your quality of sleep.

If those tips don’t do the trick and you’re interested in sleep medications, Kilkenny recommends having a healthcare provider conduct a thorough exam. 

If you are prescribed sleeping pills, it’s crucial to take them as instructed. 

Don’t take the medication until you’re ready for bed and ensure you can get seven to eight hours of sleep, Kilkenny added.

Avoid taking the pills along with pain medications and don’t mix them with alcohol. 

If you choose to take sleep medications, keep an eye out for side effects.

“If you experience any side effects that bother you, talk to your health care provider,” says Kilkenny. 

The bottom line:

Millions of Americans regularly take sleeping pills to get a good night’s sleep, according to new data from the CDC. Women and older adults are more likely to take sleeping pills to fall and stay asleep. The findings highlight just how common sleep medications have come in the United States.

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