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Pills Not the Best Choice for Sleepless Seniors


2 Star

Pills Not the Best Choice for Sleepless Seniors

Our Review Summary

The story describes harms of sleeping pills in elderly adults. These harms might include problems during the daytime, including problems with memory or grogginess leading to falls. The story does address some issues, such as alternate treatment options to sleeping pills, insomnia in the elderly (that this is usually not a serious problem), and harms of sleeping pills (although the story provides relative vs. absolute rates). However, the story doesn’t go far enough. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of sleep aids in the elderly, the story misses an opportunity to truly educate and inform readers. The issue of sleep disorders is complicated and deserves some attention given the huge amount of advertising for newer sleep products. Given the amount of advertising about the positve attributes of Ambien and Lunesta, an article placing these drugs into perspective would have been desirable. Although the story was relativey short, much of the information was redundant and the space could have been better served by providing information on good sleep habits.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention costs, of either over-the-counter sleeping aids or prescription sleeping pills. The drugs noted (Lunesta, Ambien) are some of the most expensive prescription drugs available to treat insomnia.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story tells readers that sleeping pills can help you fall asleep and stay asleep, but it does not provide any quanitification of benefits. However, since the story focus is about potential harms of sleeping pills in the elderly, it’s not clear that the story should attempt to quantify benefits. Nonetheless, it feels a little one-sided to present only harms data without similar information about benefits in the same population. The value of drugs for insomnia should be compared to good sleep habits. The story could have provided a great service by noting the simple measures that can help promote good sleep. The reality is that no one is cured of their insomnia unless they change their sleep habits or have an underlying disorder (sleep apnea for example) taken care of.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story provides harms of sleeping pills in the elderly, namely risk for falls and problems with memory during daytime hours. The story gives some information about the frequency with which these might occur based on one study (seniors are 5 times more likely to have memory problems and 3 times more likely to suffer a fall after using sleeping pills). The story also talks about the seriousness of falling, which could lead to a broken bone. However, the article fails to note the potential to abuse these drugs, the potential to become dependent on them, and the potential to have symptoms when the drugs are stopped after long-term use.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story claims “several studies” and one recent study conducted at the University of Toronto show that sleeping pills can have major consequences, especially for older adults. However, what type of studies the claims are based on and the strength of those studies is not discussed. Any limitations of the evidence is not discussed.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story states that insomnia in the elderly is not necessarily a problem, which is fair and accurate. It describes how as one ages, the number of sleep hours needed tends to decrease. The story also describes some red flags that might signal a more serious sleeping problem, such as shortness of breath or pain.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The story obtains information from an independent source who is seemingly not connected to the sleep study at the University of Toronto.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The study describes other treatment options to sleeping pills, namely staying up later, and getting out of bed if you awaken at night and don’t feel sleepy. However, the story does not provide the reader with a complete listing of good habits for good sleep hygeine. In many cases insomnia can be cured through the use of some common sense lifestyle changes. Attention to “sleep hygeine” is the primary approach recommended by sleep specialists. Drug therapy is a last resort, not a primary treatment approach.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story states that sleeping pills like Ambien and Lunesta are increasingly popular, which implies the drugs are available and being used.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story talks about sleeping pills in general, but also names two specific types of sleeping pills (Ambien and Lunesta). Because the story names two specific drugs, the story should also tell us whether these are new (and whether that might be one reason that sleeping pills are becoming more popular). What’s more, these two drugs drugs have not been shown to be better than older and far less expensive drugs like triazolam.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


There is no obvious evidence that the story relies on any press release.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory


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