UK addicted to sleeping pills: Stress-related insomnia on rise since start of the economic crunchNHS spending 50million a year on the drugsThat's a rise of one-sixth over the past three yearsExperts fear patients may be getting hooked

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UPDATED:

07:06 GMT, 11 May 2012

Britain has become a nation of sleeping pill addicts since the start of the economic downturn, figures revealed yesterday.

Stress-related insomnia has been blamed for a sharp increase in the number of people prescribed powerful drugs to help them sleep.

The annual cost to the NHS of handing out the pills has risen by a sixth in the past three years to nearly 50million.

Worries: Stress-related insomnia has been blamed for a sharp increase in the number of people prescribed powerful drugs to help them sleep

Worries: Stress-related insomnia has been blamed for a sharp increase in the number of people prescribed powerful drugs to help them sleep

But there are fears that strong medication is being given out too readily and patients are becoming hooked.

Many of the most commonly used pills have potentially dangerous side effects including liver problems, headaches and nausea.

Studies reveal a third of adults suffer from insomnia, while more than half say they still feel tired when they wake.

Figures obtained from health trusts under a freedom of information request reveal that last year 15.3million prescriptions were handed out for sleeping pills, compared with 14.5million in 2007/8.

Last year the NHS spent 49.2million on such drugs, up from 42million three years previously. This is an increase of more than 17 per cent.

Habits: There are fears that drugs are being given out too readily and patients are becoming hooked

Habits: There are fears that drugs are being given out too readily and patients are becoming hooked

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: ‘The most likely explanation is the increase in stress-related insomnia.

‘We are seeing an increase in people presenting with a range of issues including anxiety, depression and general stress-related complaints.

‘There’s a significant increase in stress-related problems caused by the economic environment. This might be due to unemployment, debt or just general doom and gloom in society.

‘Most sleep problems are caused by stress and anxiety, although some are caused by chronic pain or sleep apnoea,’ he added.

Mandeep Mudhar, NHS business director
at the Co-operative Pharmacy, which obtained the figures, said: ‘Our
research shows that millions of people suffer from a lack of sleep each
year and are seeking medical help for the problem.

‘We are seeing an increase in people
presenting with a range of issues including anxiety, depression and
general stress-related complaints’ Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation

‘While usage has risen steadily, the costs to the NHS have risen disproportionately, with costs going up at a greater rate. However some sleeping drugs are only recommended for short-term use because they can lead to psychological dependency and lose their effectiveness over time.

‘Sleep patterns can be affected by physical or psychological factors and the continued economic downturn is a likely cause for the increased use of sleeping pills because of the heightened stress, anxiety and worry levels people face as a result of job insecurity or money worries.’

Last year a survey of 5,300 adults
found that 61 per cent did not always get a good night’s sleep. The
British Sleep Study, carried out by the Mental Health Foundation, also
found that 37 per cent had insomnia with another 24 per cent having
sleep apnoea or teeth-grinding.

Pugh on the UK's new found love of sleeping pills

Insomnia is defined as having sleep disturbances on at least three nights a week which lead to problems the next day.

Researchers also found that insomnia sufferers were four times more likely to suffer relationship problems. Some 55 per cent had difficulties with their partners compared to 13 per cent who slept well.

They are three times more likely to lack concentration during the day and more than twice as likely to suffer from low energy.

Other studies have linked lack of sleep to obesity. Last month academics from Boston calculated that getting less than five and a half hours sleep a night caused people to gain a stone a year because their metabolism would slow down.