Sleep aid sales up, but do they work

Sales of over-the-counter sleep aids like Advil PM are up as more people toss and turn over the economy. But are these medications really effective? Joel Rose reports.

Kai Ryssdal: Pfizer announced a slight drop in quarterly sales this morning. Its blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor has been losing ground to cheaper generics. And the push for those cheaper cures might also affect drug-maker Wyeth when it announces profits tomorrow. But if the company somehow doesn't beat Wall Street expectations, you can't blame Advil PM. As Joel Rose explains.

JOEL ROSE: According to a recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation, one in three Americans is losing sleep over the recession and other financial concerns. And it seems that many of those insomniacs are looking to over-the-counter drugs for help.

Advil TV Spot: With Advil PM, she's spending less time lying awake with aches and pains. And more time asleep.

Sales of Advil PM were up 17 percent last year. This at a time when the drug's manufacturer, Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, saw its overall sales shrink slightly, according to spokesman Doug Petkus.

DOUG Petkus: People are simply looking for a way to relieve nighttime pain, and help to get a full night's sleep. Advil PM is a product that seems to be working for them.

Sales of Advil's main competitor, Tylenol PM, are also up 6 percent over a year ago. Both pills include a pain reliever and an antihistamine that causes drowsiness.

MEIR Kryger: These are not sleeping pills, really.

Meir Kryger is the chairman of the National Sleep Foundation, and director of sleep medicine at Gaylord Hospital in Connecticut. Kryger says antihistamines are OK for short-term use, but...

Kryger: The sleep that you get with them is not the world's greatest sleep. And they really have not been studied long-term. So it makes doctors very nervous that people might be taking some of these products for weeks, months and even decades.

Kryger says the best way to treat long-term insomnia is to start with a visit to the doctor. Unfortunately, he says that's getting harder for patients who've lost their health insurance along with their jobs.