Side effects, dangers & alternatives to sleep medication
Not being able to sleep is frustrating to say the least. Your head feels foggy, energy is drained and you’re irritable with everyone around you. Sleeping well is as important as exercise and eating well in terms of living a healthy life. It’s no wonder then that an estimated 9 million Americans use sleeping pills as a quick way to get a better night’s rest. But is the easier solution the better one?
“In my practice, sleep medication is a bridge to treating the underlying cause of the sleep issue,” says Dr. La Puma. “Try everything else before you consider medication and when you’ve exhausted your options, talk to a doctor.” Dr. La Puma says there are three questions you should ask your doctor before taking sleep medication.
If you’re considering sleeping pills to help you sleep, the following news articles may shed some light on this complicated subject.
Sleeping pills & seniors
Many people think seniors need as much sleep as children but the opposite is true – it’s natural to sleep less as you age. Sleep doctors recommend just 7 – 8 hours of sleep for people over the age of 65. Still, if you’re not able to get enough sleep to feel well-rested, it’s easy to see why you might resort to sleep aids as a means to help.
Rachel Morehouse, a psychiatrist and the medical director at Saint John Regional Hospital’s Atlantic Sleep Centre in New Brunswick, says there’s “no question that sleep aids are more risky for seniors.” Even over-the-counter sleep medicines such as Tylenol Nighttime and Benadryl (both contain the ingredient diphenhydramine hydrochloride which help people to sleep), can be dangerous.
Seemingly benign over-the-counter sleep medications can cause dizziness, confusion, urinary retention, constipation and dry mouth. Because of the lower body weight and slower metabolisms of seniors, these symptoms can be more pronounced and more dangerous. Add to this other medical issues and other drugs they may be taking and suddenly sleep medication can be a life-threatening choice.
Dr. Morehouse, adds that the real danger with sleep medication and seniors is the increased risk of falls in the middle of the night. Going to the washroom in the dark while medicated can be like navigating a rigorous obstacle course. If you have trouble with vision and walking in general, sleep medication can make a fall more likely. Add in osteoporosis (it afflicts more than 25% of female American seniors), a fall can lead to broken bones and a midnight trip to the hospital. In the end, a fall can lead to a smorgasbord of serious problems. Read more about the dangers of seniors and sleeping pills in Globe&Mail.
Cut your sleeping pills in half
If you’re not a senior, but still rely on sleeping pills to sleep at night, a new study suggests cutting your pills in half – under your doctor’s guidance, of course. The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that insomniacs can find relief from as little as half of the drugs they take, and may even be helped by taking placebos instead.
Michael Perlis, an associate professor in Penn’s department of Psychiatry and director of the Penn Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program said, “the clinical effects of sleeping pills cannot be relied on to last forever, and long-term use increases risk of psychological dependence and side effects including daytime drowsiness, nausea, and muscle pain.”
The study involved adults with chronic insomnia who were divided into three groups for twelve weeks. Some were given 5 or 10mg Ambien sleeping pills nightly, one group received 10mg pills 3 to 5 days a week and the third group was given placebos.
The result? All three groups were better able to fall and stay asleep, but those in the second group slept worse and had more medical symptoms than those in the other two groups.
Sweeter dreams without sleeping pills
Researchers from Australia’s Melbourne Sleep Disorder Center found cognitive behavior therapy a safer and more effective treatment for insomnia than medication. They discovered that multiple sessions over a 6 week period with a cognitive behavior therapist enabled people to fall asleep 20 minutes faster and sleep 30 minutes longer.
The obvious benefit to this type of treatment is reducing side effects that can accompany sleep medication and focusing on reducing anxiety and negative thoughts about sleeplessness. Therapy can also work on improving your relationship with your bedroom and restricting how much time you spend in bed when you’re not sleeping. For even better results, researchers suggested adding at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day, eating healthy and keeping digital distractions out of the bedroom.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, sleeping pills are far from your only resort. Learning how to reduce stress through yoga or other sleep aides may be safer and more effective. If you’re considering medication to help you sleep, visit your family doctor or a sleep doctor before taking anything.