Older US adults, particularly women, are more likely to use
prescription sleep medications to try to get the minimum seven hours of sleep
experts generally recommend, US data released on Thursday showed.
Use of such pills, which include Sanofi SA's Ambien and
other similar drugs, was significantly higher for those in their 50s as well as
age 80 and older, according to the findings from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
Overall about 8.6 million people or 4% of US adults reported
recently using sleep medication, CDC's National Center for Health Statistics
said in a report. But data showed higher use among middle-aged adults ages 50
to 59 and the elderly.
6% of those ages 50 to 59 said they had taken a prescription
sleep pill in the last 30 days, and 7% of those age 80 and older reported such
use. In between, the numbers dip slightly below 6% for those in their 60s and
In comparison, just 2% of those aged 20 to 39 said they had
recently taken a sleep aid. CDC researcher Yinong Chong said people in their 50s
could have trouble sleeping because of work and family stress.
"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," she said.
Sleep may improve when people retire before potential
chronic health problems kick in and begin interfering with sleep, Chong said,
adding more study is needed.
The data also showed that 5% of women surveyed said they had
recently taken a sleep aid compared to about 3% of male respondents, according
to CDC's report. Chong said it was not clear why women were more likely to use
While previous data have tracked prescriptions dispensed for
sleep aids, the CDC said its study is the first based on a survey of actual use
of such drugs.
Researchers for the Atlanta-based health agency's National
Center for Health Statistics questioned a sampling of adults age 20 and older
about whether they had used prescription sleep aids within the last 30 days and
asked participants to show interviewers the prescription medication.
"You get how many people are actually using them,"
Chong said in an interview, noting that prescription data could include
multiple prescriptions for one patient or prescriptions that are never filled
or even used. "This is actual use." Controversy over lingering effects
prescription sleep aids have become somewhat controversial because their effect
can linger even after some patients wake up.
The US Food and Drug Administration has begun taking a
closer look at sleep drugs, ordering lower doses for Ambien and similar pills
amid concerns that their active ingredient remained in patients' blood the
following morning at levels high enough to make driving and other activities
And just last month, the FDA rejected an experimental sleep
drug from Merck & Co Inc, saying the proposed doses were not safe but that
a lower-dose version might be acceptable.
Not surprisingly, respondents to CDC's study who said they
slept five hours or less each night or those diagnosed with a sleep disorder
were more likely to report using prescription aids.
Additionally, whites and people with higher levels of
education also reported greater use, the agency said. Socioeconomic factors are
likely behind those numbers, Chong said, since patients must be able to afford
a doctor's care and the medication.
According to prescription data from IMS Health, Ambien and
other versions of the drug zolpidem were ranked 15th among the most dispensed
medications in the United States.