Press Release

Taking sleeping remedies without advice can risk your health, warns RPS through national media

RPS spokespeople Paul Johnson, Neal Patel and Elen Jones took to the airwaves this morning discussing new RPS research on insomnia1 . The story was covered on Sky News, Sky Sunrise, Daybreak, Channel 5 News, BBC online, across 21 BBC regional radio stations and in The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror.

Our research shows that 51% of people with insomnia have diagnosed themselves with the condition and bought sleeping remedies without seeking advice from a health professional first. This could be putting their health at risk as insomnia is often the result of an underlying physical or mental health problem.

When questioned, 30% of people with insomnia admitted they had taken sleeping remedies for longer than a month without getting advice, including 14% who had taken them for more than six months.  A further 18% could not recall how long they had taken the remedy for.

Paul Johnson, community pharmacist, said:  “It’s worrying that so many people are over-using sleeping remedies.  They can be effective for short-term treatment of mild insomnia but should not be taken for long periods without advice because they can hide a serious health problem which could get worse if it remains untreated.” 

Only 20%2  of long-term insomnia (lasting for a month or more) has no other health condition associated with it.  The vast majority of cases are connected to underlying physical or mental health issues, for example asthma, heart disease, anxiety or depression.  When questioned, 70% of people with insomnia either did not know or significantly underestimated the proportion of cases that could be connected to other health problems. 

Although one in twenty people are believed to visit healthcare professionals with insomnia-related symptoms3  around 1 in 34  people suffer from bouts of insomnia, so many people may be missing out on the help they need.

“It’s never a good idea to take any medicine long-term as a result of self-diagnosis, as you can end up treating a symptom rather than addressing the root cause of your problem. Check with your pharmacist if you’ve been buying medicines for insomnia, or any other self-diagnosed condition, on a long-term basis.  We can help you find out what’s wrong so you can get the right treatment.”

Paul said: “Insomnia is very common and causes distress, frustration and fatigue. Pharmacists can talk to you about insomnia, advise you about your medicines and recommend the right course of action.  The vast majority of pharmacies now have a private consultation area where you can talk in private and won’t be overheard”.

1   All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2077 adults.  Fieldwork was undertaken between 14-16th August 2012.  The survey was carried out online.  The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

2 Sateia, M, & Pigeon, W 2004, 'Identification and management of insomnia', The Medical Clinics Of North America, 88, 3, p. 571.

3  NICE: Guidance on the use of zaleplon, zolpidem and zopiclone for the short-term management of insomnia

4  NHS Choices:  

Watch and listen to our media coverage below:

Watch Paul Johnson on Sky News

Watch Neal Patel on Sky News

Watch RPS research on Daybreak

Watch RPS research on Channel 5 News