New Zealand: Experts have blamed tablet computers, smartphones and other mobile devices for a 50 per cent jump in the number of young people scoffing sleeping pills. Sleep expert Dr Alex Bartle said there is "huge concern" among experts that people are reaching for prescriptions instead of looking at why they cannot sleep.

"I'm particularly concerned about this increase through the teens to mid-twenties," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying.

While it is natural for teenagers to have trouble getting to sleep, Dr Bartle said in recent years the problem has been exacerbated by electronic media.

"People go to bed with their iPhones and iPads and expect to be able to then go straight to sleep, but realistically you can't do that. You really need to put these devices down about an hour before you go to bed," he stated.

Sean Lyons, chief technology officer at cyber safety promoter NetSafe, said previous research had shown any activity that stimulated the brain an hour before bedtime impacted the ability to sleep.

"I am with this guy. There will always be people who Facebook or text themselves to sleep. I really do think that these are human issues, they are not technology issues," Lyons said.

"I would be looking for people to modify their behaviour rather than reaching for pharmaceutical solutions," he added.

A study by the America's Lighting Research Centre backs Dr Bartle ha also revealed that devices with back-lit displays (such as tablets and smartphones) caused melatonin suppression, affecting our body clock and delaying sleep.

The researchers said teens - who were already "night owls" - were particularly susceptible to the problem.
Meanwhile pharmacists are benefiting from this new addiction, at least in New Zealand.

Figures obtained by Fairfax Media showed the New Zealand government drug agency Pharmac has spent NZ3.2 million dollars on sleeping pills this year.

According to Pharmac, there has been a 50 per cent increase in prescriptions for the drug Zopiclone being handed out to people aged between 10 and 29 in Waikato.

Zopiclone is the most commonly dispensed sleeping pill in New Zealand, with more than 500,000 prescriptions dished out this year - 57,000 of those in Waikato. But Kiwi experts say drugs should be a last resort for treating sleeping problems.

(Agencies)

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