On some nights, you may need a little extra help to get the sleep you need. In fact, 1 in 25 Americans reaches for a sleep aid at least once a month. It might seem like a good short-term strategy, but its not without its risks.
The FDA recognized these issues when they released a warning in 2013 about insomnia drugs containing zolpidem (including well-known names such as Ambien). It was concerned about next-morning impairment, which negatively impact activities that require mental alertness, such as driving.
While the impact of drinking and driving is well understood, the perils of taking sleep meds and driving are lesser known. Thats changing as the body of research grows and theres more coverage of high-profile cases, including one involving Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy.
She was charged with DUI (driving under the influence) when she crashed her SUV in 2012. Her defense was that she had mistakenly taken a sleeping pill instead of her thyroid medication. Her memory of the accident ended after she left her home and got onto the highway. She was eventually acquitted, but the incident underscored the potentially dangerous side effects of prescription sleep meds.
Women are particularly at risk with sleeping pills and driving because they metabolize medication at a slower rate than men. And they use sleep aids more frequently. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 1 in 3 women take some sort of sleep medication at least a few times a week.
For graphic evidence of what happens when women drive under the influence of sleeping pills, check out the video of Lisa Stark from ABC News behind the wheel using a driving simulator at University of Iowa to show just how dangerous sleep driving can be on a medication like Ambien.
Despite some of the issues associated with certain sleep aids, they can be helpful, if used with caution:
If your sleep is disrupted randomly because of stress or hormones, it might be time to reassess your nightly bedtime routine.
If youve decided to use sleep medication to get the sleep you need, talk to your doctor about short-term use of an over-the-counter sleep aid first. Ask him or her to recommend a brand that addresses your unique challenges.
If your sleep problems persist, ask your doctor about prescription sleep medications. Most doctors use medication as a short-term solution for chronic insomnia and encourage simultaneous behavior therapy. Insomnia, if left untreated, can put you at risk for a slew of health problems, such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Insomnia is a serious problem and you need to be an active participant in the solution. These resources will help you begin your research so you know what to ask your doctor: Sleep Doctor Resources.
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