Older woman sleeping in chair in the daytime

The use of sleep medications among Americans dropped by 31% prior to the onset of the pandemic, with the steepest decline among adults aged 80 and older, a study has found.

Investigators examined data from 29,400 participants in the 2013 – 2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They grouped medications used for sleep disturbance into two categories, Food and Drug Administration-approved and off-label, and tracked use across the study period.

Prevalence of FDA-approved sleep medications use fell by a whopping 86% over the study period among Americans aged 80 years and older. Driving the overall trend were declines in the use of FDA-approved medications for sleep disturbances, especially for medium- and long-term duration of use, the researchers reported.

Encouraging results

The decline was seen nationally, suggesting that efforts to reduce overprescribing and encourage judicious use of these drugs were successful, said researcher Christopher N. Kaufmann, PhD, MHS, of the University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL. 

“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,” he said in a statement accompanying the study. Reliance on these drugs had steadily risen in the decades preceding the study period, but medical, advocacy and health officials strongly discouraged their use as evidence grew about adverse outcomes, he said.

In older adults, sleep medications are linked to falls, injury and death. But there are “highly effective behavioral treatments available that are growing in popularity,” he added.

Whether the pandemic has had any effect on use of sleep medications remains to be seen, Kaufmann and colleagues noted.

Full findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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