You can barely turn on the TV these days without seeing an ad for the latest prescription sleeping pill. But those commercials may be having too much influence over how we treat sleeplessness.
According to Consumer Reports, prescription sleeping pill use has risen nearly 50% since 2001. And part of the increase is because of the surge in direct-to-consumer advertising of anti-insomnia drugs like Ambien and Lunesta. But critics say, most people don’t need a prescription to get rest. Other sleep remedies, like over-the-counter medicines, changing your sleep habits, or even drinking milk might work just as well as - or even better than - the advertised pills.
Sleep expert Dr. Marvin M. Lipman says that about 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia, but it’s not really a disease. It’s a set of symptoms mostly triggered by things like stress, pain, and jet lag. And he believes the ads have basically made a mountain out of a molehill. In a sense, they've helped create a disease and provided the pills to fix it. And the ads make everybody think that they have a bigger problem than they really do – and that they need a pill to fix it.
The United States is one of a few countries that allows consumer advertising of prescription drugs, and last year the drug industry spent more than $4 billion dollars in advertising. A 500% increase in 10 years. And each additional dollar spent in consumer advertising yielded $4.20 in drug sales.
By heavily promoting drugs that treat symptoms rather than illnesses, some doctors say that companies are driving patients to look for a quick fix instead of finding a solution. In most cases, sleeping pills should be the last resort. But for a lot of insomnia sufferers, that's the first thing they ask for when they see their doctor.
So, next time you can’t sleep, use the medical commercial as a place to start a conversation with your doctor. But be sure to explore all your treatment options. Bottom line: You wouldn’t buy a car you never touched or test drove just because you saw an ad on TV. Don’t base your important health decisions on flashy advertising either.