People under 18, including young children, are using sleeping pills more than ever, yet the usage of sleeping pills should be questioned, reports RÚV.
Iceland holds the Nordic record for the use of sleeping pills in children. Since 2008, prescriptions of sleeping pills to children have increased by several hundred percent.
“There are many reasons why children struggle to sleep, and sleep problems may be on the rise, as evidence suggests if we just look at medication use. But I think the bigger issue is just the health care system and how they’re dealing with it,” says psychologist and sleep expert, Erla Björnsdóttir.
Erla believes this increase in sleeping pills is indicative of a broader problem with Icelandic healthcare.
“We know that, in general, we Icelanders are good at taking medicine,” says Erla. “We use a lot of medications. Not just sleeping pills, it’s ADHD drugs, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and all manner of psychotropic drugs. Are we that different [from other countries] or is the system failing us in some way?”
Sleeping pills are easy and cheap to get. People have even started Facebook exchanges of the drugs. However, other treatments are available for sleep issues.
“There are psychologists who specialise in treating sleep problems in children,” says Erla. “Psychotherapy is expensive, it’s not subsidised, which is absurd in 2022. We go to the clinic, that’s our first stop, and they don’t offer any kind of tailored intervention for children with sleep problems. That’s where we need to begin. We need to start there, with prevention and education, and target this early intervention where most people are looking.”
Other treatments may be able to reach the root cause of sleeping issues, whereas a sleeping pill may only serve as a band-aid for a bullet hole.
“There are so many other things we can do to modify sleep that are more behavioral, cognitive, environmental, and other things that we can try to manipulate to improve sleep. A drug should not be tested [on a patient] until we have worked through these factors,” says Erla. “There is always a cause. If a sleep disorder is present, there is something causing it. We want to get to the root of the problem and fix it. But if we medicate, we’re actually mostly just suppressing some symptoms, and so the drugs may stop working after a while, because the cause is still there and the problem pops up again. Of course, medications may be necessary in the short term, but they are not a long-term solution to sleep problems.”
Sleeping pills have several negative effects that are often overlooked. Two children were recently hospitalised after overdosing on a replacement drug. The long term impacts of sleeping pills is largely under-researched.
Despite the potential harm, people are still trading sleeping pills online and even bringing over-the-counter drugs from abroad. Erla highly advises against these practices.
“Melatonin, for example, is available over-the-counter at pharmacies in the United States,” says Erla. “I wouldn’t recommend giving it to your kids. Because it’s unregulated, we don’t really know what’s in these drugs. Studies show that even though the label says there is 2mg of melatonin, there can be up to 400% more actual melatonin in the product, along with other hormones. We don’t want to give our child a cocktail when we don’t know what’s in it.”
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