Active ageing, emotional care and the threat of stigma: Identity management in older adults using sleeping medication long-term

Georgia Smith*, Hannah Farrimond

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
285 Downloads (Pure)


Amid fears about the medicalisation of old age, the high prevalence of sleeping medication use in older cohorts is a significant public health concern. Long-term use is associated with a plethora of negative effects, such as cognitive impairment and risk of addiction. However, little is known about the lived experience of older adults using sleeping medication longer term. Episodic interviews lasting approximately 90 minutes were conducted with 15 independently living adults, aged 65–88 years, who were using sedative-hypnotic or tricyclic sleeping medication for more than 11 years on average. Thematic analysis shows that participants divided their rationale for use into two temporal periods: (1) to ensure physical ability in the daytime and (2) to ensure emotional stability at night. Long-term sleeping medication was thus characterised as a form of ‘emotional self-management’ of the negative emotions associated with later life, blotting out feelings of loss and loneliness by inducing sleep. Participants feared loss of access to their medication ‘supply’, employing strategies to ensure its continuity, while expressing shame about their dependence. However, identity management, in the form of explanations, minimisations and social comparisons, functioned to downplay their addiction. Through this, long-term sleeping medication users were able to elude the spoiled identities and multiple stigmas of both the ‘out of control’ addict and the unsuccessful older adult by asserting a positive identity; that of the ‘new’ older adult, actively medicating for success both day and night.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalHealth (United Kingdom)
Early online date8 Mar 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Mar 2018


  • active ageing
  • addiction
  • self-care
  • sleep
  • stigma

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