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Taiwanese consume great quantity of sleeping pills:

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwanese consumed a total of 327 million sleeping pills last year, and if placed in a line they would run the length of Freeway No. 1, according to a report released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday.

The freeway starts in Keelung City in the north and ends in Kaohsiung City in the south, a distance of 372.8 kilometers. This indicates the serious sleeping problem suffered by Taiwanese.

Some local doctors point out however, that many who suffer from insomnia in fact do not need to take sleeping pills. For instance, some college students have formed the habit of staying up late at night to play games or to do their homework, and wake up late in the morning. This, over time, will result in a type of insomnia which cannot be treated via sleeping pills.

More exposure to sunlight will help these people overcome insomnia, doctors said. Exposure to the sun will alter the body's biological clock, helping one to form the habit of going to bed early.

According to FDA statistics, over each of the past four years, locals spent more than NT$300 million on sleeping pills annually. The top three prescribed sleeping pills in Taiwan last year were Zolpidem, Estazolam and Bromazepam.

There were also inappropriate sleeping pill prescriptions last year. Seven of these incidents resulted in a fine of NT$60,000, while nine others resulted in NT$120,000 fines.

Mao Wei-chung (毛衛中), a doctor at Tri-Service General Hospital, pointed out that sleeping pills are not always effective in treating insomnia. Overdose may even result in addiction.

Mao cited a clinical example in which a 68-year-old patient tended to wake up during the night. The man tried sleeping pills, to no avail. Mao said that the patient in fact suffered from REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, and required treatment not of sleeping pills but other types of drugs.

According to Mao, many senior citizens doze off at around 6 or 7 p.m., and wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. He suggested that they do some outdoor exercise and see some sunlight and reset their biological clock that way.

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