Research reveals use of sleep medication drops dramatically in U.S.

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A new study has found that the use of pharmaceutical medication for sleep has fallen significantly in the United States.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, was led by a team of researchers at University of Florida Health who accessed national trends in the use of medication for sleep disturbance.

Investigators used data from 29,400 participants in the 2013 to 2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. According to the study, there were three waves of in-person assessments, during which participants presented prescription bottles for all medications used in the prior month. Each medication was recorded and participants self-reported the duration of the prescription and its use. Scientists then identified and organized the medications used for sleep disturbance into two categories – U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved sleep medications, and off-label medications used for sleep disturbance.

The results of the study revealed medication use decreased by 31 percent between 2013 and 2018. The authors suggested this trend was driven by declines in use of FDA-approved medications for sleep disturbance, especially for medium-and long-term duration of use. There was also an 86 percent decline in individuals over the age of 80 years old, for those same FDA-approved medications.

“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 Christopher Kaufmann, PhD, MHS, assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of health outcomes and biomedical informatics in a statement. “We’ve seen deprescribing initiatives. 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.”

While the study found sleep medication decreased across all classes, the strongest was a 55 percent decrease in FDA-approved medications. Kauffman said behavioral treatments for insomnia, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, are being increasingly encouraged by physicians. He also pointed to digital therapeutics, such as apps that offer behavioral techniques, to treat insomnia without having to see a sleep specialist as gaining popularity.

Kaufmann said these behavioral treatments have been shown to be at least as effective or even more effective than sleep drugs.