If you’ve ever had trouble falling asleep, rest assured that you are not alone, talk to your doctor. According to recent national sleep foundation studies, 4% of adults in the US (roughly 9 million people) use sleeping pills medications, or prescription sleep aids to help cope with insomnia and other sleep-related issues. Here, we’re going to cover what sleeping pills are, are sleeping pills safe, how they work, and whether you should use them.
Sleeping Pills: What Are They?
Sleeping pills are a part of a specific drug class called “sedative hypnotics.” This drug class includes:
- Anti-anxiety medications such as Librium, Valium, Xanax, Ativan, etc.
Doctors will recommend the best way of taking sleeping pills directly before bedtime to help you sleep. You should make sure that you are clear on all of your doctor’s sleep medication instructions regarding dosage and usage before taking any sleeping pills like and double-check that you’ve read the medical advice entirety of the sleeping pill product’s label.
You should also set aside an ample amount of good night s sleep time allotted to health sleep beforehand to make sure that you don’t oversleep on the next day of an important event.
How Safe Are Sleeping Pills?
Sleeping pills are completely safe and may help when taken as needed and instructed. However, you’ll face long term health risks if you become dependent on sleeping pills; a study in 2012 linked the use of sleep aids to a higher risk of blood pressure, allergic reactions, and premature death.
You should not take sleeping pills without your doctor’s knowledge and approval. Consult your regular physician to see if they recommend that you incorporate sleeping pills into your daily cognitive behavioral therapy routine.
Side Effects of Sleeping Pills
Any habit-forming prescription medicine will have side effects, and sleeping pills are no different. The specific sleeping pill dosage and the drug can determine how long the sleep aid drug will last in your system and how it may affect you. Some common side effects of sleeping pills include:
- Muscle aches
- Prolonged drowsiness the following day
- Rebound insomnia
- Trouble concentrating
- Dry mouth
Some of the other risks involved with sleeping pills are:
One health risk involved with continuously taking sleeping medicine is that you might come to rely on them completely to get to sleep. When going without sleep pills, you might have a worse sleep side effect or be unable to get to sleep at all. Prescription pills are especially addictive, making them even harder to quit.
Increase in Drug Tolerance
Over a long period of time sleeping pill use, you could build up a higher tolerance for sleeping aids. This means that you will have to increase the amount you take for them to work gradually. When you take a sleeping pill over time, the negative side effects will only get worse, unfortunately.
Negative Drug Interactions
As with any short term medication, you want to make sure that you are not creating a terrible drug cocktail inside your body to get a good night’s rest. Sleeping pills interact with other medications that you take.
This can worsen the side effects and increase health complications. The more harmful outcomes result from combining prescription sleep pills with prescription sedatives or painkillers.
Symptoms of Withdrawal
If you have to stop taking your sleeping pill medication abruptly, you could experience withdrawal symptoms. This includes sweating, shaking, and nausea.
Cutting yourself off from sleeping medication could cause your insomnia to come back worse than it was before.
Hiding an Underlying Problem
You may be masking an underlying health concern by taking sleeping pills. There could be a mental, medical, or even sleep disorder that is the root of your insomnia. A medical professional should treat these habit-forming conditions as opposed to sleeping pills.
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Over the Counter (OTC) Sleeping Aids
You can purchase some sleeping pills over the counter. These tend to rely on antihistamines to induce drowsiness. Some of the more common sleep-driving medications for sleep that you can get over the counter are:
– Doxylamine (found in products such as Nighttime Sleep Aid and Unisom)
– Diphenhydramine (found in products such as Nytol, Sleepinal, Sominex, Compoz)
Other OTC brand products such as Tylenol PM combine a pain reliever (acetaminophen) with antihistamines, which combine alcohol with antihistamines (NyQuil).
The issue with relying on antihistamines as an ingredient is that the sedative properties are so strong that they can last as long as into the next day, which can leave you with a hangover-like effect. Some of the common side effects specific to sleeping pills containing antihistamines are:
- Moderate to serious drowsiness the following day
- Blurred vision
- Urinary retention
- Dry throat and mouth
Prescription Sleep Aids
We touched on sedative-hypnotics earlier, but now we will dig a little deeper into the risks and side effects of these drugs. These prescription sleeping pills work by targeting the brain’s receptors to cause the nervous system to slow down and relax the body. Some of these fall asleep pills are used for staying asleep while others induce sleep. Some products can last a lot longer inside your system than others, and some sleeping pills may come with a higher risk of addiction habits forming.
Benzodiazepine Sedative Hypnotics
One of the oldest types of sleeping medications that are still commonly used is benzodiazepines. These prescription sleeping pills are controlled substances that come with a higher risk of dependence compared to other insomnia medicines.
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Benzodiazepines are usually used to treat anxiety disorders. A downside to benzodiazepine products is that users can become psychologically and physically dependent on them, meaning they start to believe that they cannot sleep without them. The effectiveness of benzodiazepines also reduces over time if they are used regularly on a nightly basis.
Non-Benzodiazepine Sedative Hypnotics
Some of the newer treatment medications on the market offer a different chemical counter sleep makeup compared to benzodiazepine, but they still act upon the same region of the brain. These sleep aids are considered to have lower health conditions, risks of dependency, and less negative side effects, but they are still controlled substances.
These products include:
- Zolpidem (Ambien)
- Zalepon (Sonata)
- Eszopiclone (Lunesta
The Bottom Line
If you suffer from insomnia or struggle to get a consistent night’s sleep, you have many food and drug administration medications to choose from that can help. However, sleeping pills are extremely dangerous. You should not take any of these sleep disorders medications without the advice of a doctor.
Related: Why You Should Practice Meditation When Trying To Fall Asleep