Sleepless in America

Eighty three percent of Americans say they do not always get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, according to the 2013 Rx Sleep Survey conducted by Harris Interactive. The results also revealed that forty-eight percent of Americans say stress and anxiety prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.  There are gender differences with more women than men are likely to have difficulty falling and staying asleep and to experience more daytime sleepiness. According to the Harris survey more women (88 percent) than men (78 percent) suffer from lack of sleep or sleep disorders, Fifty-six percent of women say anxiety and stress are the leading reasons for lack of restful sleep, compared to 40 percent of men. For all the other top reasons Americans do not always get a good night’s sleep more woman than men report:

  • Inability to turn off thoughts (16% more women than men)
  • Pain (13% more women than men)
  • Being overtired (22% more women than men)
  • Background noise (25% more women than men)
  • Children or pets (33% more women than men)

It is unclear why more women than men report sleep disorders. It is possible that women may require more sleep than men or that they may simply have greater physiological consequences to lack of sleep than men. Pregnancy and menopause too can dramatically alter sleep patterns. What is known is that the consequences of too little sleep on women are dangerous. According to a recent study conducted by Duke University, women who get too little sleep have a higher risk of developing heart disease, depression or other psychological problems. They are also more likely to develop blood clots which put them at greater risk for stroke.

Regarding treatment, the results revealed that while overall 25 percent of Americans would be willing to take a prescription sleep aid to improve sleep quality, the majority of Americans (71 percent) would rather use other means to get a good night’s rest. When it comes to treatment for sleep disorders the gender disparities continue.  More women (29 percent) than men (20 percent) would be willing to take a prescription sleep aid. The survey also found that women (68 percent) are less inclined than men (75 percent) to use other means than prescription sleep aids to help them sleep. These results are supported by research on inflammatory markers showing that women experience chronic pain more frequently, with greater intensity and longer duration than do men.  Having more pain during the day, the ease and facility of pharmaceutical solutions may be most appealing to women.

According to the CDC, the number of prescriptions for pharmaceutical sleep aids has increased dramatically in the past 10 years with more than 9 million Americans or 1 in 25 are using such aids.  While not a cause of death, recent studies suggest that patients taking prescription drugs for sleep were nearly five times as likely as non-users to die over a period of two and a half years. Sleep drugs have very serious side effects which can impair daily function and overall quality of life. The popular misconception of these drugs is that they improve overall sleep quality, when in reality they often interfere with a patient’s ability to achieve meaningful restorative sleep and normal physiologic function. The FDA recently ordered a label change for the popular sleep drug zolpidem (ambien) because women are more susceptible to next-morning impairment. With issues such as addiction, rebound insomnia, morning grogginess and memory loss, many providers are encouraging both men and women to seek alternatives to prescription drugs for sleep.

Alternatives to Prescription Sleep Drugs

There are many non-pharmacologic therapeutic options for patients affected by sleep disorders including educating patients about sleep, sleep hygiene, aerobic exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy. One new and rapidly expanding field of treatment is the use of medical foods to manage the specific amino acid and neurotransmitter deficiencies associated with sleep disorders. Medical foods are a well defined FDA regulatory category established by the Orphan Drug Act of 1988. Medical foods work on a different pathway from other prescription drugs and contain ingredients that are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA.

Rather than focusing on a single receptor site or molecule, medical foods work on multiple pathways providing depleted cells with the amino acids and specific nutrients that are needed to help fall asleep and achieve restorative sleep, many of which cannot be replaced by simple dietary alterations or supplements alone. For example, insomnia is often a co-morbidity of anxiety and of chronic pain. These specific conditions alter the metabolic processes of the nervous system resulting in a relative nutritional deficiency. Correcting the nutritional deficiencies is an approach that has shown to be effective with minimal to no side effects. The management of sleep is a complex process that is influenced by other diseases and conditions, and even gender. Talk to your healthcare professional about alternatives to prescription drugs for sleep.