The Dangerously Unhealthy "Sleep Industry"

In today’s Wall Street Journal, the article When Sleep Leaves You Tired highlights the problem of sleep deprivation in our society:

Chronic, inadequate sleep raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes and obesity. It impairs cognitive function, memory and the immune system and causes more than 100,000 motor-vehicle accidents a year. Sleep deprivation also changes the body’s metabolism, making people eat more and feel less satisfied.

The WSJ deserves credit for publishing this piece, but it also deserves scorn for this:

To my surprise, the study found that I had a fairly severe case of Periodic Limb Movements, episodes of involuntary muscle movements in the night. About 10% of adults have PLMs…Medications like REQUIP can minimize the movements; I’m going to give them a try.

REQUIP (a.k.a. ropinirole hydrochloride) is a dopamine agonist that is normally used to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease. It has also been recently approved to treat moderate-to-severe primary Restless Legs Syndrome.

And it will definitely help the author get more sleep…

One of REQUIP’s more common side effects is “falling asleep while engaged in activities of daily living.” Here are some findings from the clinical trial results:

Although many of these patients reported somnolence while on REQUIP, some perceived that they had no warning signs such as excessive drowsiness, and believed that they were alert immediately prior to the event. Some of these events have been reported as late as 1 year after initiation of treatment.

It is unfortunately the norm in our society to defer to a “quick fix” solution like this rather than address the key behavioral patterns that are actually causing sleep deprivation. So instead of scaling back on non-essential activities and making sleep a priority, the all-too-common response is to have a doctor conveniently write a script for a newly-categorized “disorder.”

Remember, sleep is an essential human need – and doctors’ offices and pharma companies are businesses.

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