New Brunswick

New Brunswick seniors using sleeping pills more than counterparts across Canada

A researcher from Dalhousie University says older New Brunswickers are using sleeping pills at a higher rate than their counterparts in other provinces.

25 per cent use sleeping pills compared to 16 per cent in Nova Scotia

Studies indicate 25 per cent of New Brunswickers over the age of 65 use sleeping pills on a regular basis.

A researcher from Dalhousie University says older New Brunswickers are using sleeping pills at a higher rate than their counterparts in other provinces.

Dr. David Gardner, a professor in Dalhousie's department of psychiatry, said studies indicate 25 per cent of New Brunswickers over the age of 65 use sleeping pills on a regular basis.

This compares to 16 per cent in Nova Scotia and five per cent in Saskatchewan.

Gardner said researchers are not really sure why so many New Brunswick seniors are turning to drugs to get sleep.

"Is it sort of a culture where traditionally we've gone to sleeping pills a little bit more? … Is it that people are asking more for them? Or is it that they're being offered more and people are less aware of what the alternatives are," said Gardner.

The need for a good night's sleep is real, and there can be negative consequences for those who don't get enough.

"People have a higher risk for cardiovascular issues, diabetes and other health issues, chronic pain and then mental health issues as well," said Gardner.

But Gardner warns that sleeping pills aren't a long-term solution and can have side-effects just as negative as sleep deprivation.

"One third of hip fractures in people 85 and older are thought to be attributable to the use of sleeping pills," said Gardner.

"Memory impairment, especially as we get a little bit older, that can be a bigger issue."

Addiction

Also, taking sleeping pills can lead to addiction, which can be difficult to overcome.

"One of the real big issues with sleeping pills is that if you take a sleeping pill for two to three weeks only and then you stop using them, the first thing that happens after you stop using them is you go through withdrawal and the biggest feature of that withdrawal is insomnia," said Gardner. 

"It makes you believe that you still need the sleeping pill. So what do you do? You go back, you ask the physician for more sleeping pills. It can be a vicious cycle."

Gardner said the most effective way to deal with insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy, and points to several books and apps that can help people get better sleep.

Gardner has launched a project called YAWNS NB, which is seeking older adults who use sleeping pills.

The goal is to send out educational packages Gardner hopes will help New Brunswickers reduce their use of sleeping pills.

"We're asking them to do an interview with us at the start by telephone and then an interview six months later," said Gardner.

"We want to see if the package actually changes their need for sleeping pills, as well as how well they're sleeping with the use of new approaches based on cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia."

Anyone interested in signing up for the study can visit sleepstudy.ca.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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