About one in five adults does not get as much sleep as he or she would like.1,2 The amount of time people sleep varies from 3–10 hours a night, with an average of 7–8 hours; the elderly often sleep less.2 Insomnia, the feeling of excessive night-time wakefulness, is thus a very subjective complaint. It is more common in women and is often long-standing when medical help is sought.2 It is often treated with a hypnotic drug, and in recent surveys 4% of adults,3 and 16% of the over 65s4 had taken a benzodiazepine hypnotic in the previous year. We review how best to help insomniacs, when to prescribe a ‘sleeping pill’, and which one to use.
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