Israel sees rapid increase in use of sleeping pills since October 7

Science and Health

Is the Israel-Hamas war keeping you awake? You are not alone.

Data from Israel’s health insurance funds and pharmacies reveal a significant increase in the consumption of sleep medication, under a doctor’s prescription or in alternative forms. Experts warn that this increase can add to the risk of addiction and damage to the normal sleep mechanism.

We spend a third of our lives sleeping, which is important not only for preventing fatigue and functioning alertly during the day but also for a huge variety of medical processes that happen at night. A lack of sleep has already been proven to shorten lifespan and can increase the risk of chronic diseases including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

The security and political situation since the October 7 massacre has led to an increase in patient inquiries and complaints of feelings of fear and anxiety. In the last three months, close to a hundred thousand distress calls were registered about a feeling of loneliness, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and also related sleep disorders, according to data provided by health professionals in Israel.

According to data from the United Health Insurance Fund, the first month of fighting showed a 170% increase in the number of patients who for the first time started treatment with sleeping pills and sedation compared to the corresponding period last year.

In the second month, from November 7, there was a decrease of about 50% in patients who started treatment with anti-anxiety drugs, compared to an increase of about 20% in the number of patients who started using sleeping pills for the first time, compared to the first month of fighting.

What sleep medications are patients frequenting?

The main increase was recorded in the sleep medications Zodorem, Bundormin and Ambien. The Leumit Health Insurance Fund’s data showed an increase in the use of drugs overall. Compared to the months before the Swords of Iron War, there was a 17% increase in the dispensing of prescription drugs for sleep and anxiety was clear in the three months of the war. 


“We are witnessing a large increase in the consumption of sleep medications during this period, which is understandable and expected,” says Tal Lavana, a clinical psychologist and director of the mental health system of Mu’hadat in the Jerusalem district.

“Sleep impairment is a typical characteristic of dealing with anxiety, trauma, and depression. Many patients suffer from various types of sleep disorders among different age ranges. In children, there are frequent difficulties with falling asleep in addition to separation anxiety from their parents when trying to fall asleep. Among adults, we see difficulty falling asleep, and waking up throughout the night. Many also report that their sleep is ‘not good’, a kind of feeling that have have slept and are still tired.

“Since October 7, the public in Israel has been full of fears and anxieties about the security situation, and therefore we also see in the Jerusalem area an increase in the consumption of sleeping pills,” confirms Dr. Amit Lotan, director of the psychiatry department at Hadassah hospital. “However, the prolonged viewing of news on television and on cell phones, in addition to increasing anxiety, also damages the secretion of our sleep hormone. This hormone, melatonin,  makes it difficult for us to fall asleep when it is not secreted or is secreted late.”

Increased consumption of sleep medications is also clear in the north of the country: “We are seeing a significant increase in patients’ complaints about impaired sleep and its quality,” notes Dr. Einat Medar, a specialist in internal medicine and psychiatry at the Emek Medical Center.

“The war we are in causes an increase in the level of anxiety which affects the ability to fall asleep, in addition to sleep quality. It is important to know that a sleep disorder can also be the first symptom of another mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, and lack of sleep in itself causes a low mood and significant functional difficulties.”

The use of sleeping pills comes with risks, especially when taken over an extended period. “Treatment with sleeping pills impairs the quality of sleep, may cause fatigue during the next day, confusion, short-term memory loss, and a high risk of accidents. Prolonged use of benzodiazepine-type sleeping pills such as Nocturno, Zorum, and Ambien, may also cause addiction, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms and the need to increase the dose,” explains Dr. Olga Breiman Tekch, the director of clinical pharmacy at Mohehad, adding: “The longer the treatment, the more difficult the withdrawal and may be accompanied by withdrawal symptoms.”

Long-term use of sleeping pills also causes additional dangers in the elderly: “In the elderly, frequent use and high doses may also cause cognitive decline and repeated falls,” adds Dr. Madar.

“Even if the doctor recommends you sleeping pills, it is recommended to take them for a limited number of days. One should check whether the medicine meets personal requirements, check if sleep improves, and if one is feeling refreshed and relieved after sleeping. Before using a drug, it is recommended to discuss the problem with a professional to understand the root of the problem and not treat only the symptom.”