Experts sound alarm about growing use of sleeping pills in US

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DENVER -- Popping pills to get some sleep is a growing trend and a new study is sounding the alarm.

The survey from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention asked 17,000 people over five years about their sleep habits.

The results show insomnia is on the rise.

Four percent of Americans, or 8.6 million, resort to sleep medications.

The reasons people can’t sleep is unclear.

Some blame obesity, others the increasing use of late-night electronics, like computers, televisions and cell phones.

Whatever the reasons, insomnia hits older adults, particularly women, especially hard.

Nancy Nickoley of Highlands Ranch fits the profile of people most likely to suffer insomnia—a white woman in her 50s.

It’s a problem she’s battled for about 10 years.

"You're ready to go to sleep and you stare at the ceiling. You try counting sheep…And sometimes you get up in the middle of the night, ‘Maybe I'll work for a while. Maybe I'll read for a while,’" she says.

But unlike those interviewed in the CDC survey, Nickoley avoids prescription sleep medication to drift into blissful slumber.

"Tylenol PM and those sorts of things," is what she says she uses instead. “I just really try to steer clear of that (prescription pills).”

But more than 8.5 million Americans do.

People over 80 have the highest use of prescription sleep medication.

Doctors think it’s because they have more aches and pains—making it harder for them to get a good night’s sleep.

Their answer to getting some shut-eye is Ambien, Lunesta, or any of the nearly dozen sleep medications on the market.

"What's alarming is the fact that the use of prescription medications are increasing," says Dr. David Slamowitz of the Sleep Well Center in the Denver Tech Center.

He works to get people off sleep meds because they’re associated with a shortened lifespan.

"If someone is considering taking them they should not do so lightly," he says.

Instead, he teaches people better sleep habits—like keeping a regular bedtime schedule, having a pre-sleep ritual, like reading, and blocking out light and noise from the bedroom.

"Sleep is a huge part of our lives," says Nickoley.

It's why she went to the Sleep Well Center herself—and now more often, she’s kicking those sleepless nights out of bed.

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