When you find yourself tossing and turning more often times than not, sleeping pills can serve as just the trick to drift off to sleep. Few things are more frustrating than not being able to get some much-needed shuteye, and for millions of Americans, sleep aids - both over the counter and prescription - make sweet dreams possible.
However, it turns out that some of these medicinal sleep inducers may be doing more harm than good among certain members of the population, based on the results of a new study.
Published in the medical journal Sleep Medicine, a recent analysis suggests that some prescription sleep medicines can increase the risk of car accidents.
In most over-the-counter sleeping pills, the activating ingredient is diphenhydramine, an antihistamine that helps produce sleep-promoting neurons in the brain. In many prescription medications, however, zolpidem is used. It's this sedative that has researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham concerned after determining in a study that long-term use was linked to a 46% higher accident risk than non-users over a five-year period.
John Booth, student assistant at UAB's Department of Epidemiology, noted in his analysis that the side effects of zolpidem may increase the likelihood of motorists being involved in a crash, women and the elderly, in particular.
"Due to the side effects of such drugs - including drowsiness upon waking and impaired coordination - current zolpidem users age 80 and older, as well as those who are female, experienced higher rates of motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) than nonusers," Booth warned. "We recommend that health care practitioners consider proposing behavioral treatment before prescribing zolpidem to restore sleep in women and patients over age 80 to reduce the risk of MVCs associated with this prescription drug."
4 in 10 get less than the recommended amount of sleep
At least two things are pretty well known about sleep: We all need it, but few of us are getting enough of it. Experts recommend between seven and nine hours of sleep nightly. However, at least 40% of Americans get less than what's advised, according to a recent Gallup poll. In 1942, only 11% of Americans had a sleep debt.
"Only 11% of Americans in 1942 didn't get the recommended amount of sleep."
Operating on too little sleep is more than simply being uncomfortable. It can severely diminish quality of life and reduce productivity. It can also lead to slow reaction times, which can spell disaster on the roads.
Drowsy driving incidents have risen
Drowsy driving is widespread, but it's particularly problematic in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, between 2% and 20% of highway deaths each year stem from falling asleep at the wheel. In fact, from 2009 to 2013, more than 72,000 crashes in the U.S. were attributable to drivers nodding off. Of these, 41,000 people were injured and 800 were killed.
Health officials urge those who routinely get to bed too late to make sleep more of a priority. The benefits are numerous. Based on a 2015 survey done by Gallup, Americans who get the recommended seven to nine hours tend to have a better overall well-being than those who get less. Of the nearly 7,100 individuals who took part in the study, those who achieved at least seven hours per night had a score nearly five points higher on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index than respondents who got six hours or less.
Getting more sleep is often easier said than done. Some have a harder time with it than others. For tips on how to get more zzz's, visit the National Sleep Foundation's website.