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Managing sleep and hypnotic medicines

More than 95% of insomnia problems encountered by GPs were managed by hypnotic medicines between 2006–08. Non-drug therapies have comparable efficacy to benzodiazepines and other related drugs, and their use might avoid the need for a hypnotic medicine.

Identifying and addressing underlying causes is the first step to managing insomnia. Rectifying poor sleep practices can vastly improve the quality of sleep for many people, as can the use of behavioural and cognitive therapies.

The latest NPS education program 'Management options to maximise sleep' encourages prescribers to treat insomnia by addressing the causes and discuss with patients and carers the benefits of using non-drug therapies over a hypnotic medicine. It also emphasises the importance of discussing the potential harms of hypnotic medicines to limit their use, and provides strategies for helping patients to stop them.

Avoid use in older people

For some people, getting a good night’s sleep can be a major problem. While the amount of sleep we need may decrease as we get older, the quality of sleep remains important.

Hypnotic medicine use is particularly high in older people, yet this group has a greater risk of adverse effects. These can include fatigue, cognitive impairment and even serious events involving falls, fractures and motor vehicle accidents.

It is important to engage family, carers and staff in aged care facilities in supporting patients who are attempting to stop or reduce their use of hypnotic medicines.

If drug treatment cannot be avoided in older people, warn patients and their carers about the potential adverse effects. Long-acting drugs (e.g. diazepam) should not be prescribed in older people as they can accumulate and cause excessive sedation.

NPS seminars for seniors

In partnership with the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, NPS has developed seminars to raise awareness of medicines use problems among seniors of non-English speaking backgrounds.

The seminars will be held from 1 March to 30 June around the country with Chinese, Italian, Greek, Vietnamese and Arabic speaking seniors. The seminars are titled:

  1. Safe and wise use of medicines
  2. Sleep and ageing

What resources are available?


You can read more about insomnia in:

NPS News 67 – Addressing hypnotic medicines use in primary care
NPS news67: Addressing hypnotic medicines use in primary care
Go to the resource page.
Download PDF now.
Prescribing Practice Review 49: Management options for improving sleep
PPR 49: Management options for improving sleep
Go to the resource page.
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You can participate in:

NPS Case Study 62: Maximising sleep and minimising potential harms
NPS Case Study 62: Maximising sleep and minimising potential harms
Go to the resource page.
Download PDF now.

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