02/07/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Oh Canada, Get Some Sleep!

A recent study I read showed some interesting aspects about the sleep of our friends to the north, and they seem to be as bad as ours here in the US! The study recently published in the journal Sleep explained the economic cost associated with sleep disorders in Canada. Here are the bullets (all in Canadian $):

  • total annual cost of insomnia (direct and indirect) in the province of Quebec was estimated at $6.6 billion
  • prescription medications ($16.5 million)
  • over the-counter products ($1.8 million)
  • alcohol used as a sleep aid ($339.8 million)
  • The total estimated annual cost of alcohol used for promoting sleep was $51.1 million spent by people with insomnia syndrome, $211.2 million by those with symptoms of insomnia and $77.5 million by good sleepers.

What everyone seems to be making a big deal about is the alcohol consumption number.  My question is WHY?

Sleep researchers for YEARS have known that the #1 sleep aid in the world is alcohol. If you go back to the 1998 Sleep In America Poll, you find that 10% of all Americans had used alcohol in the past year to "help" with sleep. Another study collected in the Detroit area showed that 13% of those polled used alcohol as a sleep aid.

Let's do some math here. There are approximately 7.5 M people in the Province of Quebec. If we took the percentage of people we know in the US who use alcohol as a sedative (say 10%) and said those 750,000 account for the $340 million spent on alcohol as a sleep aid, that equals 453 dollars per person. If you have symptoms of sleep problems 4 nights a week and 50 weeks a year that is about $2.27 per night, or a beer or two.

What is important here is that the number was 20 times more than prescription medication, and 188 times more than OTC products for sleep. And we wonder why pharmaceutical companies keep introducing new insomnia medications? 

Don't get me wrong, I am a very large proponent of natural, non-pharmaceutical methods for helping with sleep (Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Sleep Hygiene, Sleep Supplements, etc.). But it looks like people are looking for better answers to a better night's sleep, and let me tell you alcohol is not the answer.

Alcohol, in large quantities, while making you sleepy, keeps you out of the deep stages of sleep, makes you dehydrated, and wakes you in the middle of the evening (usually to go to the bathroom). So the moral of the story is a glass of wine with dinner may be fine, but a six pack is not a good bedtime story.

Sweet Dreams,

The Sleep Doctor

This article on sleep is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.