Why do women in their 50s find it so hard to get a good night's sleep?
According to the first such study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), middle-aged women are the most likely to use sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta and similar medications. Also having a tough time sleeping - adults 80 or older.
Overall, nearly 9 million Americans rely on prescription pills to get to sleep each night, the study found.
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The data reveal that sleeping pill use starts to climb when adults hit their 40s and 50s. Those with more education were more likely to rely on the pills, and women popped them more often than men. Five percent of women reporting taking sleeping pills, compared with 3.1 percent of men, the researchers found.
The CDC study was based on interviews with about 17,000 adults, from 2005 to 2010. Study participants were even asked to bring in any medicines they were taking, the Associated Press reported.
When asked whether they had taken a prescription sleeping pill in the past 30 days, 6 percent of those ages 50 to 59, and 7 percent of those age 80 or older, said they had. For those in their 60s and 70s, the response was slightly below 6 percent.
In comparison, just 2 percent of those ages 20 to 39 said they had recently taken a sleep aid, according to Reuters.
About one in four of those studied suffered sleep problems serious enough to report to their doctors, Yinong Chong, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with the CDC, told NBC News. "They told us they had difficulty getting to sleep, or they were waking up and couldn't get back to sleep."
Adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep nightly, but nearly a third of Americans get six hours or less, the CDC notes.
And why is a decent night's sleep so difficult to achieve? For women in their 50s, it could be a result of hormonal changes combined with the stress of work and family that may be disrupting sleep patterns.
"It gives the picture of a sandwiched group who has family, not only children but also probably elderly parents, but still you're likely to be in the workforce, so you get squeezed at both ends in terms of family responsibility and job responsibility," Chong told Reuters.
Although sleeping pills are meant to be taken temporarily, many people become dependent on them, which can cause health risks. A federal report in May said the number of ER visits by older adults suffering adverse reactions to Ambien and other drugs had more than tripled between 2005 and 2010.
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A 2012 Scripps Clinic study found that people who regularly took prescription sleeping pills were nearly four times more likely to die prematurely compared with those who didn't take these pills.
For women in particular, sleeping pills can cause more grogginess in the morning because the medication stays longer in their bloodstream.
In January, the Food and Drug Administration ordered the makers of Ambien and other sleeping pills to slash the recommended dosage in half for women.
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