Sleep medication use drops dramatically among Americans, study finds

Americans aren’t turning to pharmaceutical options as often in the never-ending battle for a good night’s sleep.

The use of medication to treat sleep disturbances has fallen dramatically in the United States in recent years after several decades of climbing steeply, according to a study by a team of researchers led by a University of Florida Health scientist.

The study published July 12 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine documented a 31% decline in the use of common sleep medications between 2013 and 2018, a trend thought to be linked to a greater awareness of the potential pitfalls posed by these prescriptions. (It remains to be seen how the COVID-19 pandemic might have impacted this trend.)

The drop-off is particularly noteworthy for Americans over age 80, who are most susceptible to falls leading to injury when using sleep medications. The study showed an 86% decrease in this group.

“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,” said public health researcher Christopher Kaufmann, Ph.D., M.H.S., an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of health outcomes and biomedical informatics and a member of the UF Institute on Aging.

“We’ve seen deprescribing initiatives,” he added. “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. There are highly effective behavioral treatments available that are growing in popularity.”

The study’s observed trend stands in marked contrast to the rapid rise of sleep medication use and prescribing in previous decades. An earlier study by some of the same researchers found that prescriptions for benzodiazepines, or BZDs, a class of drugs to treat anxiety and insomnia that includes diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), and non-BZDs, a similar class of medications including zolpidem (Ambien), climbed 69% and 140%, respectively, between 1993 and 2010.

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