Like your sleeping pills? You’re not alone. About 8.6 million Americans now use prescription sleep aids, according to the CDC. Yet as they grow more popular, I sense a move afoot to restrict their use.
“Americans,” CNN’s Kate Bolduan announced a few days ago, “are popping sleeping pills at an eye-opening, eye-popping rate!”
“It’s an epidemic!” Dr. Carol Ash on the Today show said. “Doctors are still filling out prescriptions like candy and not getting at the root cause!”
Maybe coverage like this—and the negatives that have surfaced about Ambien in recent years—can explain why, when I asked for a renewal of my prescription during my routine physical a few days ago, my doctor gave me the third-degree.
Hadn’t I heard about all the recent information coming out about the negative effects of Ambien? she asked. Terrible news was coming out about Ambien and other sleeping pills every day. Shouldn’t we think about another drug instead? At the very least she was going to reduce my dosage—now that doctors were coming under closer scrutiny for prescribing it.
The Dirt on Ambien
I knew the information my doctor was referring to.
- The recommended dosage of Ambien has for women been cut in half based on tests showing that in 10 to 15 percent of women, the drug causes morning drowsiness.
- The number of people landing in the emergency room after taking Ambien increased by nearly 220 percent between 2005 and 2010.
- Some studies, including a recent study based in Taiwan, have linked the use of Ambien and other sleeping pills to an increased risk of mortality.
As presented in recent news reports (where creating alarm—rather than fair and balanced coverage—seems to be the order of the day), Ambien sounds like a badass drug in a whole class of bad drugs. In this kind of climate, it’s no wonder PCPs are leery of prescribing Ambien and other similar hypnotics. If NBC or CNN were your main news source, why wouldn’t you think twice about refilling patient prescriptions?
A Little Bit of Push Back
First, to conclude that Ambien is worse than other hypnotics based on tests conducted and statistics compiled in the past few years simply is not justified. Ambien is the bête noir of hypnotics today only because—due to its great popularity—it has undergone the lion’s share of post-marketing tests. If similar drugs were tested in all the same ways, they, too, would probably emerge showing a raft of nasty side effects in some users.
Second, just because some users experience side effects—and others abuse these drugs—does not mean they should suddenly become off-limits to those who use them judiciously and whose sleep improves as a result.
With sleeping pills, wrote a user in response to a negative article about sleeping pills in Huffington Post, “I can sleep. I don’t awake drowsy. I have no trouble thinking or functioning in my work environment or any other environment. . . . I don’t drink or smoke and did both in my younger days. So I get really tired of professionals using generalities to try and control my choices.”
My thoughts exactly.
I wish journalists were willing to go the extra mile to include more than one point of view in their stories about sleeping pills—and that primary care physicians knew more about hypnotics than comes out in the report du jour on CNN.
If you’ve used sleeping pills, please weigh in. How have they helped? What side effects have you experienced?