Nightly News   |  August 29, 2013

Many looking for a good night’s rest turn to sleeping pills

Millions of Americans rely on sleep aids to help them for slumber, but the pills may not be the best course to ease sleep disorders. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> our health news tonight is about a first of its kind look from the cdc at the millions of americans desperate for a good night's sleep, and turning to prescription meds for help. tonight a closer look at who is taking them, and why they might not always be the right answer. here's nbc's tom costello.

>> reporter: from sunrise to sunset, and deep into the night , for many americans , there simply aren't enough hours in the day. sleep too often elusive. patty haggerty remembers her last full night of sleep.

>> may 1st , 2005 , i had just turned 40.

>> reporter: only averaging two hours a sleep a night, she tried sleeping pills that only made her groggy and agitated.

>> it was almost like the bed was mocking me. everyone else is asleep in the house and here i am.

>> reporter: middle-aged white women who are educated are more likely to turn to sleeping aids. 5% of adult women and 3.1% of adult men take a sleeping pill . part of a bigger trend with nearly 70% of americans now taking at least one prescription drug . including painkillers, antidepressants and cholesterol meds. but sleeping pills are not supposed to be a long-term fix.

>> generally most sleeping medications are recommended for use for one month or less.

>> reporter: most people need at least seven hours of sleep, and older women are twice as likely than men to suffer from insomnia. considered serious when it takes 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep, if you're awake for at least 30 minutes during the night or wake up 30 minutes or earlier than you'd like. doctors say sleep hygiene can go a long way toward curing insomnia, ensuring the room is dark and quiet, avoiding caffeine or alcohol before bedtime, no television, no internet, and no texting.

>> we can become psychologically dependent.

>> reporter: now up to five hours. precious sleep for so many of us, so hard to come by. tom costello, nbc news, washington.