Sleeping Pills Are Hurting Americans Who Make This Mistake

As prescription sleep aids have grown increasingly common, Americans are using—and abusing—the pills more than ever.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 13, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

As many as 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders and often turn to prescription sleeping pills to ensure a good night’s sleep. These drugs, also referred to as hypnotics, are meant for short-term use. Yet Americans have come to rely on them all too frequently, and more users are winding up in the hospital as a result.

Emergency room visits involving overdosing on zolpidem, a key ingredient found in sleeping pills such as Ambien and Edluar, nearly doubled in the years between 2005 and 2010, from 22,000 to 42,000. The study, from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, focuses on instances of overmedication from overuse or mixing medications, not from the use of illicit or non-prescribed drugs.

Just about any stressful situation can keep Americans up at night, not to mention that the ability to fall and stay asleep can be affected by common conditions such as depression, epilepsy, and allergies. Pills are a common solution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 5 percent of women and 3.1 percent of men use prescription sleep aids to guarantee shut-eye. These prescriptions have increased 30 times between 1994 and 2007.

The CDC links the overuse of pills to customer frustration as users develop a tolerance and require more pills to get the same amount of rest.

Along with the taking of an unsafe dosage, 60 percent of these E.R. visits were due to sleep aids being taken with other prescribed medications and causing negative interactions. While part of a pharmacist’s due diligence includes reminding customers of potentially dangerous drug interactions, the onus is still on consumers to alert their doctor and pharmacy to medications that may be filled in different locations and by different doctors.