Survey: Sleep Medication Use Common Among Older Adults

Jennifer Barrett, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Wednesday, October 4th, 2017
Although sleep difficulties are common among older adults, most don't address the issue with their health care provider. According to results from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, more than one-third reported using some type of medication to help them sleep at night. 

The poll was conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine. The results are based on answers from a nationally-representative sample of 1065 older adults who answered questions online.

Of the respondents, who were aged 65-80 years old, with sleep problems, 36% reported using a type of sleep medication either regularly (31%) or occasionally (23%). This included prescription sleep medications, prescription pain medications, OTC medications, and herbal/natural sleep aids. Among occasional users who had trouble sleeping at least 3 nights a week, OTC sleep aids were the most common choice. Those who regularly used sleep medications relied on prescription drugs.

Despite the associated health risk, 23% of respondents who reported sleep troubles 3 or more nights a week and use a prescription sleep aid indicated long-term use of these drugs.   

Almost half (46%) of the poll’s respondents said that they had trouble falling asleep 1 or more nights per week, and 15% reported having trouble 3 or more nights per week. Twenty-three percent who had trouble sleeping said that it was due to pain, and 40% responded that their overall health was fair or poor. Other reasons reported for sleep difficulties included having to get up to the use the bathroom at night and worry or stress.

More than half of older adults (54%) believe poor sleep is a normal part of aging. Poll results indicated that many individuals don’t view sleep issues as a health problem, which is the most common reason that the respondents said they hadn’t talked to their health care providers about sleep. For health care professionals, this highlights an opportunity to ask older patients about sleep habits and counsel on appropriate sleep aids while reducing prolonged use and potential risks.

National Poll on Healthy Aging. Healthy Aging Poll website. Published September 2017. Accessed October 3, 2017.  

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