A new study, led by Dr. Daniel H. Soloman at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, finds that long-term prescription sleep medication use does not lead to better quality sleep in middle-aged women living in the United States. With an estimated 9 million Americans currently relying on the use of sleep aids — either prescription or over-the-counter — researchers concluded the efficacy of long-term sleep medications should be reevaluated.
The study followed the sleep habits of 238 women actively taking sleep medication for insomnia, as well as 447 women not taking medication, and also suffering from insomnia. The study tracked participant sleep for two years, with findings self-reported at both the one and two-year marks of the study. The researchers made necessary changes at the one-year mark, in an attempt to improve sleep quality. Both groups of participants were tracked using the 5-point Likert Scale — a score of 1 being no difficulty on any night, and a score of 5 indicating difficulty on five or more nights. Participants were asked to record whether they had difficulty falling asleep, how often they woke up in the middle of the night, and early morning wake-ups.
The findings showed little-to-no difference in sleep quality for both groups of women, across all markers listed above, at both the one- and two-year points. In addition, women who were taking sleep medication reported no difference in sleep quality over the two-year duration of the study. Given the statistically insignificant differences between each group, the study concludes that the use of long-term sleep medications requires further evaluation.
Sleep disturbances are common — and on the rise — and many default to the use of sleep medicines. Additionally, those who use sleep medicines tend to do so long-term. However, the researchers note the patients in their study would have benefited more from cognitive behavioral therapy. While sleep medicine may have some positive short-term effects, the study suggests long-term sleep disruptions should be addressed through the use of a structured, multi-faceted approach.