Woman taking sleeping pills, 1954.
© NMeM / Daily Herald Archive / Science & Society Picture Library
A photograph of a woman in bed reaching for a box of sleeping pills, taken by an unknown photographer for the Daily Herald newspaper. This photograph was used to illustrate an article about the number of people taking sleeping pills in Britain at the time. Barbiturates had been used since the start of the twentieth century as sedatives or sleeping pills but by the 1950s they were shown to be dangerous and addictive. Alternatives to barbiturates, such as Valium, were introduced from the early 1960s. By 1980 nearly 40 million prescriptions for sleeping pills were being written by British doctors - 10 per cent of all drugs prescribed.