Sleep Health and Appropriate Use of OTC Sleep Aids in Older Adults-Recommendations of a Gerontological Society of America Workgroup

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The Gerontologist


Getting a good night's sleep can be challenging for older adults with chronic medical conditions, which often interfere with sleep. As a result, many older adults turn to over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids, that is, products with diphenhydramine or doxylamine. However, these products are indicated only for occasional difficulty with sleep, not for chronic use; and their safety and efficacy has not been well established in general and in older adults specifically. To engage national stakeholders in a discussion of OTC sleep aids in older adults, the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) convened a multidisciplinary workgroup. The Workgroup examined differences between younger and older adults in sleep health and use of OTC sleep aids using data from the National Health and Wellness Survey; assessed the pharmacologic properties and medication effects of OTC sleep aids; and worked with stakeholders to promote strategies for safe and effective use. Older adults are more likely to take diphenhydramine or doxylamine products 15 or more days in a month, an indicator of inappropriate use. The Workgroup recommends research to investigate the ways older people use OTC sleep aids. The goal should be reduction in inappropriate use and associated risks, such as daytime sedation, compromised cognitive function, and falls. In addition, the Workgroup recommends a greater role for community pharmacists in counseling older adults on appropriate use of OTC sleep aids.

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