Managing sleep problems using non-prescription medications and the role of community pharmacists: older adults' perspectives.

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To examine older adults' perspectives regarding managing sleep problems through selection and use of non-prescription sleep aids, and the role of pharmacists.


Telephone interviews were conducted from May to June 2015 with 116 individuals aged ≥60 years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Participants reported in a previous survey to have used at least one non-prescription sleep aid in the past 30 days and were willing to participate in a follow-up interview. Interview guides were designed to elicit perspectives of sleep problems, selection and use of non-prescription sleep aids, and consultation with healthcare professionals. Interview transcripts underwent content analysis.


Four themes emerged as follows: experiences with sleep problems, selection of non-prescription sleep aids, non-prescription sleep aid use and interactions with healthcare professionals. Over half of participants reported using a non-prescription sleep aid for >1 year, were satisfied with its use and perceived it improved sleep quality. Participants commonly used an antihistamine-only sleep aid; 36% of participants self-recommended their sleep aid; and 16% of participants consulted healthcare professionals. Few participants read medication dosage labels (22%), side effects or warnings (19%), and many reported they disregarded directions. Participants did not typically consult pharmacists about sleep problems (65%) but perceived that they could assist with medication concerns.


Although most participants had favourable perceptions of non-prescription sleep aids, older adults may be inappropriately using non-prescription sleep aids to self-manage sleep problems by frequently disregarding medication labels and directions for safe use. Also, few older adults are discussing their sleep aid selection and use with pharmacists.

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