Red flag on sleeping pills

By • Published: May 3rd, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

There was a time when people who had trouble falling asleep counted sheep. Today they count little pills from a bottle located at their bedside.

Indeed, Americans’ increasing reliance on sleeping pills is raising a red flag with some physicians who are waiting for the other bedroom slipper to drop.

In 2005, forty-two-million prescriptions were filled for sleeping pills. That was a sixty percent increase over the number issued just five years earlier.

What’s driving this trend toward sleeplessness? Almost everyone points to an increasingly frenetic lifestyle, with its attendant stress and anxiety. About one out of every ten people reports trouble falling asleep or staying asleep for a full night.

Equally important may be the development of a new class of sleeping pills that is thought to carry less risk of dependence than older sleep aids. Drug makers trumpet the benefits of these pills to consumers via slick advertisements, and each new product contributes to a tsunami of persuasive marketing. In 2005, manufacturers spent three-hundred-million on such promotion, four times as much as the prior year.

So what’s the problem? Some experts say that not enough is known about the drugs’ side effects which, though rare, can include next-day drowsiness, sleepwalking and a kind of amnesia. They also point out that sleeplessness can be a sign of depression, a more serious condition that shouldn’t be ignored.

The moral of this bedtime story? With sleeping pills, even the new and improved versions, you can’t be too cautious.