By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TVBy Paula Ebben

BOSTON (CBS) – She’s a busy executive by day, but at night, Maria is wide awake.

For more than a year she has suffered from insomnia.

“It’s very difficult to empty my mind of the stresses of the day,” she said.

To help her sleep, Maria alternates taking prescription sleep aids, anti-anxiety pills and muscle relaxants.

“On a bad night, when I feel a lot of anxiety, I definitely cannot sleep without the help of drugs,” she said.

WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben reports.

Maria is part of a growing number of women taking prescription and over-the-counter medications to help them sleep.

A study from the National Sleep Foundation found nearly 3 in 10 women say they take sleep aids at least a few nights a week.

“It is clear women have more problems with it,” explained Dr. Nancy Collop, who runs the sleep center at Emory University, where three out of the four insomnia patients are women.

Her patients range from over-scheduled soccer moms to stressed-out working women and women who are going through the hormonal changes of menopause. Their reasons vary, but they all rely on sleeping pills of some sort.

“If they’re using them a few nights a here and there, it’s probably not so bad. But we find that most people probably don’t really want to have to depend on taking a sleeping pill every night to sleep,” she said.

Developing a dependency on sleeping pills is what landed an insomniac named Anne in rehab.

“The issue became, I couldn’t sleep without them,” she said.

Experts say many women like Anne become ‘accidental addicts.’ They start using over-the-counter pills, then they switch to stronger medications and a cycle of dependency begins.

Dr. Alan Jason Coe is the medical director of a rehab clinic. He believes the best way to tackle the problem of insomnia is to try to figure out why you can’t sleep.

“The trend of using sleep aids to treat insomnia is not getting at the real problem. Whether it’s an underlying anxiety problem or an underlying depression problem, that needs to be looked at,” he said.

Experts say everyone may have trouble sleeping now and then but if your insomnia lasts more than three weeks, it’s probably time to talk to a doctor.


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