TODAY   |  August 29, 2013

New study: 12 million Americans use sleep aids

A new study shows that 12 million Americans are using products to get to sleep. Dr. Carol Ash, director of sleep medicine at Meridian Health in New Jersey, talks about the problem.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> new research out this morning highlighting the lengths americans go to to get more rest. according to to a government survey about 12 million americans have used a sleep aid just in the last month. dr. carol ash is director of sleep medicine at meridian health in new jersey.

>> good to see you, willie.

>> 12 million in a month. a few years ago it was 60 million prescriptions written. that was up 20% from five years prior. why this big spike?

>> it's a real problem. it's an epidemic. 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills alone are written. and this survey looked at not just filling prescriptions, but who is using the sleeping pills . what we found is 6% to 7% of people greater than age 50. it tends to be more common in women that are older, educated, and that to me speaks volumes.

>> you put those together. women, educated and older. why that combination?

>> well, think about it for a second. women have more physiologic challenges. they have the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause. also more access, awareness and access to health care providers. we're finding doctors are still filling out prescriptions like candy and not getting at the root cause .

>> something that jumped off the page to me as i read this study, sleep aids used by people who get five hours or less of sleep a night. i get that. also by a great number of people who get nine hours or more a night. what's the deal with that?

>> really good insight on your part. less than nine hours sounds intuitive. more than nine speaks to restless sleep. you're not getting good quality sleep. one hour worth of sleep is not enough. you need more and more of it. when you understand how complex sleep is, you have to break down the reasons why someone is not sleeping. there's many, many reasons. if you go to a doctor and just say my sleep is restless, the knee jerk reaction is to write that prescription instead of diving in and finding out why.

>> quickly, for all these people who are taking these sleep aids , what do we know about long term effects?

>> it can be a problem. they can be addictive. when you try to come off them you can see rebound problems with worsening insomnia. you're at risk for falls, breathing problems and even bizarre behavior. there are simple solutions. there's cognitive behavioral therapy to help you relearn how to sleep. destressing with exercise, mindfulness, medication. and finding a sleep doctor that really can get to the root of the problem in helping you get past it.

>> still a lot we don't