The findings of a new study raise questions about the effectiveness of sleep medications like Ambien or Lunesta, indicating they often fail to help women combat long-term insomnia.
Women often take medications to help them sleep, but those drugs appear to not help them fall asleep any faster, or sleep any better, than women with insomnia who take nothing at all, according to researchers with Brigham and Wome’s Hospital in Boston.
In findings published last week in the journal BMJ Open, researchers analyzed data from nearly 700 middle-aged women over two years. The study focused on 238 women who started sleep medications like Ambien, Lunesta, or anxiety drugs and were compared to 447 women who did not use sleep medications. On average, participants were 50 years old.
Researchers started by having women rate their sleep disturbances. On average, women who took sleep medications rated their difficulty falling asleep at 2.7, waking frequently at 3.8 and early morning awakenings at 2.8. Women who did not use sleep drugs rated their difficulty falling asleep at 2.6, waking frequently at 3.7, and early morning awakenings at 2.7.
After one year of medication use the ratings did not change significantly. The medication group rated falling asleep at 2.6, waking frequently at 3.6, and early morning awakenings at 2.8., and the non-users rated falling sleep at 2.3, waking frequently at 3.5, and early morning awakenings at 2.5.
There was no statistical differences in the one year changes between users and non-users. More so, the two year follow-up results were also similar, the researchers determined.
Women who took the sleep drugs regularly did not fall asleep easier, wake less often, or wake early in the morning less frequently than women who did not take sleep aids.
Other studies have raised concerns regarding the side effects of sleep meds, including a strong sedative effect which increases the risk of falls and fractures among dementia patients who take the sleep drugs.
In 2019, federal health officials required drug manufacturers to add black box warnings to drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata, after many patients began sleep walking and sleep driving while not fully alert after taking the drugs.
Roughly 9 million Americans use prescription sleep medications, including drugs like Ambien, benzodiazepines, drugs like zolpidem, or anxiety medications used off label, like Xanax.
Clinical trial studies indicate these drugs may help users sleep when the medications are used for short term periods. However, use for chronic conditions, like insomnia, may not be beneficial in the long run.
“These analyses suggest that women who initiated sleep medications rated their sleep disturbances similar after 1 and 2 years,” wrote study authors. “The effectiveness of long-term sleep medication use should be re-examined.”