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Insomnia is an important nursing problem in hospitals Although sleep medication is often criticized, it is one of the commonest interventions with regard to sleep problems In this study, the prescription and provision of sleep medication in three Dutch general hospitals is investigated Results show that on a random day 47% of all patients (n–1076) of the surgical and medical wards were prescribed medication Thirty-four per cent actually received sleep medication that evening or night The prescription and provision of sleep medication was higher on medical than on surgical wards Furthermore, hospitals were shown to differ regarding the prescription and provision of as-needed sleep medication The study also explores whether attitudes of nurses are related to the provision of as-needed sleep medication Although their influence does not seem to be great, it is concluded that more attention has to be paid to possible effective nursing interventions in educational programmes