Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Sleeping pill users increase

More than 30,000 prescriptions for sleep medication were issued in Northland last year as Northlanders struggled to get a good night's sleep.

Figures from the Government drug-buying agency Pharmac show 30,840 prescriptions were handed out in Northland in the 12 months to June 30, compared to 28,320 five years previously.

Kyle Eggleton, clinical director at Northland's two primary health organisations, says several things contribute to sleeplessness.

Stress and anxiety can cause sleeping problems, Dr Eggleton said.

"[And] as we get older our sleep cycle tends to change so we tend to have lighter sleep patterns and tend to get woken up more frequently," he said.

"It's often considered to be completely normal in people, however, some people find it to be quite uncomfortable and some people wish to alleviate that with medication."

Sleeping medication could also be used to treat anxiety, he added.

Nationally, nearly 680,000 sleeping pill prescriptions were doled out in the financial year, but Dr Eggleton warned sleeping pills could also be addictive.

"If you are on one of those [sleeping] medications for more than about 10 days in a row there is a small risk you could start developing a degree of withdrawal if you come off the medication."

Ensuring you were relaxed and in a clear frame of mind before going to bed would help with sleeplessness, he said.

Tranx - an alcohol and drug addiction service which deals specifically with sleeping-medication dependency - says New Zealand's high prescription numbers are concerning.

Although Pharmac figures show prescription numbers are similar to those five years ago (680,950 in 2007/08), data recording methods and restrictions around prescribing medication have since changed - masking the actual increase.

Tranx manager Shaz Picard said although sleeping pills provided a quick fix, people had to deal with their underlying issues if they were to tackle sleeplessness.

- Northern Advocate

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