A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 4.1 percent of U.S. adults had taken a prescription sleep aid in the past month. In “Prescription sleep aid use among adults: United States, 2005 – 2010,” the CDC reports that the prevalence of sleeping pill use generally increased with age; the rate was lowest among adults between the ages of 20 and 39 years (1.8%) and highest among adults who were at least 80 years old (7%). Use of prescription sleep aids also was higher among women (5%) than men (3.1%).
The data suggest that prescription sleep aids are taken much less frequently than the most commonly used prescription drugs. In “Prescription drug use continues to increase: U.S. prescription drug data for 2007-2008,” the CDC reported that the most commonly used prescription drugs among adults between 20 and 59 years old were antidepressants (10.8%), analgesics for pain relief (10.1%) and cholesterol lowering drugs (8.4%). Among adults who are at least 60 years old, the most frequently used prescription drugs were cholesterol lowering drugs (44.9%), as well as β-blockers (26.4%) and diuretics (19.9%) used to treat high blood pressure and heart problems.
According to the CDC, previous estimates of prescription sleep aid use relied primarily on administrative data showing how many times prescriptions are filled. In contrast, the current analysis involved data from the cross-sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. The survey examines a nationally representative sample of about 5,000 persons each year.
Interviews were conducted in the homes of participants, who showed the interviewer the medication containers of all prescription drugs that they had taken in the past 30 days. Drug names were recorded by the interviewer from the medication containers. Several antidepressant drugs were classified as sleep aids because doctors frequently prescribe them for people who have both depression and a sleep problem.