Sleeping or wakefulness disorders affect 50 to 70 million adults in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have even called it a public health problem.1 And while some people might try and get by with less sleep and ignore the fatigue, stress, and health problems that come with insufficient or less restful sleep, sleeping pills offer respite to many others. Unfortunately, these pills are no miracle cure and come with their own set of problems. Before you try and sort out your sleeping trouble with a prescription sleeping pill, here’s what you should know.
How Do Sleeping Pills Work?
There are essentially two kinds of prescription sleeping pills. Old school benzodiazepines like lormetazepam, diazepam, temazepam, nitrazepam or loprazolam target a variety of sleep-promoting receptors in your brain. Unfortunately, they have the tendency to be addictive.2 The newer generation of sleeping pills are selective gamma-aminobutyric acid medications, nonbenzodiazepines, or melatonin-receptor agonists and
Data from a national survey revealed that about 4 percent of all adults aged 20 and over in the United States used a prescription sleep aid in the month prior to being surveyed. That’s not counting the countless others who use antihistamines and other over-the-counter sleeping aids.5 If you are one of them, here’s what you should look out for.
Side Effects Of Sleeping Pills
Doctors usually avoid prescribing sleeping pills unless your insomnia is really severe and has not responded
Here are some of the issues people taking either of these kinds of medications might face.
1. Daytime Drowsiness
Sleeping pills are known to cause daytime drowsiness in some people. This can leave you confused. Decision making and concentration may become a challenge. Some people report feeling dizzy and drowsy the day after taking sleeping pills.7
For older adults who take sleeping pills, there is an added risk. Because your body takes longer to break down the drug, it stays in your body longer. You may wake up a little unsteady on your feet or feel confused and groggy.8
2. Hallucinations And Nightmares
Medicines like zaleplon, zopiclone, and zolpidem (also dubbed Z-drugs) are given for a short-term of two to
3. Worsening Sleep Apnea
If you already suffer from sleep apnea, sleeping pills might make the problem worse. Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that causes your airways to be either partially or totally blocked when you’re sleeping, causing you to jolt awake as oxygen levels in the body drop. This results in a very restless night of sleep marred by constant wakings.10 Unfortunately, sleeping pills that you may think will help you sleep better could make things worse. Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are known to have this effect.11
4. Drug Dependence And Addiction
Over time, you could develop drug tolerance where the sleep aid needs to be taken in higher dosages to have the same effect as before. This increased intake makes you more susceptible to all
5. Aches And Pains
Melatonin-based sleep medication has been known to improve insomnia by regulating the sleep cycle. However, it can also cause you to have headaches or develop back or joint pain.13
6. Drug Interactions
There is concern over the interaction of certain drugs, specifically prescription painkillers, with sleeping pills. When combined with sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines, they could result in respiratory depression or even coma or death. This has led the US Food and Drug Administration to move for a change in drug labeling and patient information across this class of drugs. If this falls in place, both
7. Increased Risk Of Dementia
Consuming benzodiazepines has been linked to elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease type dementia. This has led researchers to suggest that long-term use of the drugs may need to be addressed as a public health concern. Excess risk is linked to consuming benzodiazepines as well as other similar drugs like anxiolytics and hypnotics for a period of greater than three months. Regulating how much you consume becomes especially critical if you are an older adult.15
8. Mortality Risk
Shocking as it may seem, some research suggests taking hypnotic drugs to help
9. Risks From Improper Use
If you plan on taking an over-the-counter sleeping aid like an antihistamine, you should avoid engaging in any major activity inside or outside the house. Ideally, just hit the sack and get a good night’s rest. The same applies
Sleeping Better Without Sleeping Pills
Sleeping pills may not be all they are cracked up to be. In fact, according to some sleep studies, they may help you sleep just 8 to 20 minutes quicker than if you didn’t pop the pills. Overall, they may help you just get an extra 35 minutes of sleep on nights you take them.18 So what you need to ask yourself is if the pills are really necessary. And if not, what are your other options?
Here are simple, all-natural tips to help you sleep better.19
- Decide on a set bedtime and time to get up and plan your day around it to ensure you make it happen.
- Set a bedtime routine and stick with it. A warm bath, some soothing music, or a good book and a room with dim light can all lead up to a good night’s sleep.
- Banish your gadgets and focus on relaxing your mind. A book or some soft music are better alternatives.
- Don’t eat too much close to bedtime.
- Skip caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine in the hours leading up to bedtime. Ideally, avoid any of these for at least 5–6 hours before you need to sleep.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you learn habits, including calming techniques, that enable you to sleep better.20
|↑1, ↑19||Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||Sleeping Pills. American Sleep Association.|
|↑3||Learn the risks of sleep aids. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑4, ↑6, ↑7, ↑9, ↑13, ↑17||Insomnia – Treatment. National Health Service.|
|↑5||Prescription Sleep Aid Use Among Adults: United States, 2005–2010. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|
|↑8||Using Pills to Fall Asleep at Night? AARP.|
|↑10||Obstructive Sleep Apnea. American Sleep Association.|
|↑11||Sleeping Pills and Insomnia. University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus.|
|↑12||Possible Side Effects of Sleep Medication. American Academy of Sleep Medicine.|
|↑14||FDA requires strong warnings for opioid analgesics, prescription opioid cough products, and benzodiazepine labeling related to serious risks and death from combined use. US Food And Drug Administration.|
|↑15||de Gage, Sophie Billioti, Yola Moride, Thierry Ducruet, Tobias Kurth, Hélène Verdoux, Marie Tournier, Antoine Pariente, and Bernard Bégaud. “Benzodiazepine use and risk of Alzheimer’s disease: case-control study.” Bmj 349 (2014): g5205.|
|↑16||Kripke, Daniel F., Robert D. Langer, and Lawrence E. Kline. “Hypnotics9 association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study.” BMJ open 2, no. 1 (2012): e000850.|
|↑18, ↑20||Sleeping pills for insomnia. Consumer Reports and American Association of Sleep Medicine.|