Sleep Medications More Common Among Older, Educated Americans

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that people who use prescription sleep aids are more likely to be older, female or well-educated.

The report found that approximately 4 percent of all American adults say they recently used a sleep medication. That percentage was higher, however, for those between the ages of 50 and 59, as well as those 80 and older.

Study author Yinong Chong says that people in their 50s could have trouble sleeping because of compounded stress from work and family responsibilities.

“It gives the picture of a sandwiched group who has family, not only children but also probably elderly parents but still you’re likely to be in the workforce, so you get squeezed at both ends in terms of family responsibility and job responsibility,” said Chang, an epidemiologist at the CDC. Chang also notes that sleep habits may improve during the 60s as people retire but before potential chronic health problems usually set in.

In the study, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics surveyed adults 20 and older about their use of prescription sleep aids within the last 30 days. Participants were also asked to show interviewers their relevant medication or prescription information.

“You get how many people are actually using them,” Chong said. “This is actual use.”

The researchers found that 5 percent of women surveyed had reported recently taken a sleep aid compared to about 3 percent of the men surveyed. The CDC team found that education was also a factor: Approximately 3 percent of those without a high school diploma reported using sleep aids compared to 4.4 percent of those with a high school diploma or higher.

Critics of prescription sleep aids point out that some patients continue to feel their effects after they wake up – making driving and other activities potentially dangerous. the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is starting to take these criticisms seriously and has ordered that dosages of some of the drugs be lowered.

In their report, the study authors noted that prescriptions for sleep medications have tripled over the past 20 years. The study, which examined trends from 2005 to 2010, is the first to look at changes in sleep aid use through the lens of social and demographic groups, say the authors. They also noted that between 50 million and 70 million Americans have sleep issues or are sleep-deprived.

“Prescription sleep aids are one of the treatment options for trouble going into or maintaining sleep,” the authors wrote, adding that their long-term use can be harmful.

According to the nonprofit advocacy group the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the typical adult needs seven hours of sleep to avoid a higher risk or death or other health issues. The amount of sleep is determined by two factors: basal sleep – the amount of sleep your body regularly needs – and sleep debt – sleep that is lost due to sickness, environmental factors or other reasons, according to the NSF.

“Two studies suggest that healthy adults have a basal sleep need of seven to eight hours every night, but where things get complicated is the interaction between the basal need and sleep debt,” said a statement on the group’s website. “For instance, you might meet your basal sleep need on any single night or a few nights in a row, but still have an unresolved sleep debt that may make you feel more sleepy and less alert at times.”

“The good news is that some research suggests that the accumulated sleep debt can be worked down or ‘paid off,’” the group said.

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