The Problem With Sleeping Pills, Consumer Reports says, is that the benefits might be smaller than you hoped for, and the risks may be greater. In a recent survey of more than 4,023 U.S. adults, 37 percent of people who complained of sleep problems at least once per week said they had used an over-the-counter or prescription sleep drug in the previous year.
“But those benefits aren’t as great as many people assume, and the drugs have important harms,” says Lisa Schwartz, M.D., a drug-safety expert at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, N.H., who has worked with Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs on investigating sleeping-pill effectiveness and safety.
“What’s more, our survey found that about half of people who take sleep aids use the drugs in potentially harmful ways—by, for example, taking them more often or longer than recommended, or combining them with other medications or supplements,” Consumer Reports wrote.
Best Buy Drugs commissioned Schwartz—who in 2013 served on an FDA advisory committee that looked at the new insomnia drug suvorexant (Belsomra)—and her colleague, Steven Woloshin, M.D., to review the evidence the FDA used to approve the drug.
“They concluded that people who took a 15- or 20-milligram dose of Belsomra every night for three months fell asleep just 6 minutes faster on average than those who took a placebo,” according to Consumer Reports. “And those on Belsomra slept on average only 16 minutes longer than people given a placebo.”
“Older prescription sleep drugs known as benzodiazepines (including Dalmane and Restoril), as well as over-the-counter sleep drugs such as Advil PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and ZzzQuil, generally aren’t any better than newer drugs at helping people fall asleep or stay asleep.”
The ‘Morning After’ Effect
“Even when taken as directed, sleeping pills pose risks, including next-day drowsiness,” Consumer Reports warned.
“People take sleeping pills hoping that they will function better the next day,” Schwartz says. “But some people actually end up functioning worse—so drowsy, in fact, that driving can be dangerous—because the effects of the drug can linger.”
A study published online in June 2015 by the American Journal of Public Health found that people prescribed sleeping pills were around twice as likely to be in car crashes as other people. The researchers estimated that people taking sleep drugs were as likely to have a car crash as those driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.
“Several sleeping-pill instructions caution users to take the medications only if they can stay in bed for at least 7 to 8 hours,” Consumer Reports said. “And to address the dangers of next-day drowsiness, the FDA has cut in half the recommended doses for Ambien and Lunesta. The labels for Ambien CR and Belsomra 20 milligrams, in fact, caution against driving at all the day after taking the pill. Yet our survey found that about a quarter of sleep-aid users drove with less than 7 hours of sleep at least once in the previous year.”
“The need for slumber drives people to use sleep drugs in potentially dangerous ways, according to a nationally representative survey of 4,023 U.S. adults conducted by Consumer Reports in June 2015.”
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