Sleeping pills fail to work as a long-term cure for insomnia, a study reveals.
Clinical trials have previously indicated the drugs may aid sleep difficulties for up to six months.
But researchers say doctors and patients should reconsider their extended use after finding they make no difference after one or two years.
They assessed data on 685 women suffering from sleep problems, such as difficulty nodding off, frequently waking or rising too early.
Some 238 were given sleeping tablets and 447 were not.
After one and two years, neither group reported any significant improvement in sleep quality nor duration and there was no difference between them.
Participants in the study, led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, United States, had an average age of 49.5 years.
All initially reported difficulty falling asleep on one night in every three, waking frequently on two nights out of three, and waking up early one night in three.
Study lead author Dr Daniel Solomon said there is ‘scant evidence’ of the drugs’ long-term effectiveness despite their widespread use.
He wrote: ‘Sleep difficulties are common. Not surprisingly, the use of sleep medications has also grown over the last two decades.
What is insomnia?
People with insomnia regularly have problems sleeping.
Sufferers of insomnia regularly find it hard to go to sleep, wake up several times during the night, lie awake at night, wake up early and cannot go back to sleep and still feel tired after waking up.
Those who suffer from insomnia also find it hard to nap during the day (even if they feel tired) and find it difficult to concentrate during the day because they are tired.
The most common causes of the condition are stress, anxiety or depression, noise, a room that’s too hot or cold, alcohol, caffeine or nicotine and recreational drugs.
In order to treat insomnia, GPs will try to find the cause of the patient’s insomnia.
Sometimes a patient may be referred to a therapist for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
GPs now rarely prescribe sleeping pills to treat insomnia.
The NHS recommends that adults get between seven to nine hours of sleep a night.