The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an estimated 9 million U.S. adults take prescription medication to get sleep at night. A 2013 report showed such use was more common among people who are white, older and female.
Researchers of the new study said that sleep medications end up being taken for longer than 6 months since insomnia can be chronic.
For the study, scientists evaluated the effectiveness of drugs in women who were involved in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). Women had an average age of 49.5 and about half the participants were white.
Disturbed sleep behaviors were rated on a five-point scale. Then, they were compared among women who did and didn’t take prescription drugs to improve their sleep after 1 and 2 years.
Both groups of women reported having a hard time falling asleep on 1 out of every 3 nights. They also reported waking up often on 2 out of 3 nights. On 1 in every 3 nights of the week, they reported waking up early. Over 70% of women in both groups said they experienced disturbed sleep a minimum of 3 times a week.
Initially, ratings of sleep disturbances were similar between both groups. Women who treated their sleep issues with medication had average scores of 2.7, 3.8, and 2.8. The scores were respective of difficulty falling asleep, waking up often, and waking up early. Women who did not treat their sleep issues had average scores of 2.6, 3.7, and 2.7 for the same categories.
After one year, women taking medication had average respective scores of 2.6, 3.6, and 2.8. Women who weren’t taking sleep medication had an average set of scores of 2.3, 3.5, and 2.5. After two years, sleep disturbances were not noticeably different.
“Sleep disturbances are common and increasing in prevalence,” the researchers concluded. “The use of sleep medications has grown, and they are often used over a long period, despite the relative lack of evidence from [randomized controlled trials].”