New Research on Sleep Medications in Women
In the HABIT program, one of our topics is addressing sleep quality because of the importance of quality sleep on daily cognitive function. We discuss identifying sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea (you can see our posts here and here about addressing sleep apnea and adjusting to CPAP therapy). But one of the biggest issues is really sleep disturbance (e.g., trouble staying asleep) rather than a medical sleep disorder. It is common for medical providers to provide prescription medication to help with sleep disturbances, which have been shown to have short-term sleep benefits. However, some patients end up on sleep medications on more of a long term basis. There is new research suggesting that sleep medications may not be as effective in the long term.
The Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN) is a long-term cohort study of a diverse sample women living in the USA. From this sample, the researchers compared the self-rated sleep quality of middle aged women who started a prescription sleep medication to that of another group of middle aged women who did not start a sleep medication. At the start of the study, each group reported similar sleep ratings. After 1 year and 2 years the sleep ratings for medication users were not improved and remained similar to the non-medication group. You can read the full study here if you wish. In this news release on the research, a Neurologist working in a Sleep Disorders Center was quoted, "The problem with using medication to control insomnia symptoms is it provides patients with some relief but the sleep they get on medication is more sedation than sleep."
With these results suggesting the lack of long term benefit of prescription sleep medications on sleep quality in middle aged women and the fact that these medications can have side effects (cognitive being one class of side effects), we'd encourage you to discuss your sleep prescription use with your physician to see if you have other options. We've discussed healthy sleep HABITs in this blog before and that may be a start, but habits for healthy sleep can take some time to develop if there is significant insomnia present. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) with a trained provider may be an important part of a sleep treatment plan with your physician. To search for a provider, one option is Psychology Today, an online resource with detailed listings for professionals in the US.
We hope this might stimulate a discussion with your physician about sleep and sleep medications and get you on your way to better quality sleep--for your brain health, your emotional health, and your physical health!