sleeping pills

Sleeping tablets are generally used for the treatment of sleeping difficulties, such as the inability to fall asleep, having no sleep, or experiencing poor quality of sleep. Many insomniacs who experience these difficulties are prescribed medication such as Ambien, Dalmane, Halcion, Lunesta, Prosom, Restoril, Rozerem, and Silenor among others. These oral therapeutics acts fast in the brain to provide insomniacs a peaceful, undisturbed sleep.

There are a number of reasons why people experience sleeping difficulties, for example: stressful events can cause people to experience difficulty in falling asleep, recurrent sudden disturbances may interrupt a sleep pattern, and waking up throughout the night in intervals may disrupt quality of sleep. If a patient suffers from one or more of the above-mentioned causes, sleeping tablets may be recommended to them by their doctor.

Although this therapeutic produces a calming effect on our brains, it is also important to learn about the side effects this therapeutic may cause. Remember, all side effects are not definite for all individuals; rather they are dependent on various personal factors such as age, co-existing health problems, tolerance level, medical history, previous cases of abuse/misuse of medication, and mental state of a person.

This article aims to inform readers of the side effects of sleeping pills, short-term and long-term side effects and other related areas.

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Are sleeping pills helpful?

Sleep is an important part of humans’ lives as it aids in development and growth. A good night’s rest can produce healthy effects on the body, while poor sleep may increase the risk of infectious diseases or health problems, a few examples are:

·         Increased risk of diabetes, high BP, heart and kidney disease and even strokes

·         Increased risk of pneumonia

·         Inflammation leading to increased C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in both men and women

·         Impairment of adaptive immunity; making people less adaptive to vaccines and more susceptible to infectious diseases, etc.

A few examples of common sleeping meds prescribed such as Ambien, Ambien CR and Lunesta, are Selective Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) therapeutics that induce sleep by controlling alertness and relaxation receptors in the brain (GABA receptors). Rozerem is a sleep-wake cycle modifier that works directly on the hypothalamus (controls sleep-wake cycle) to induce a healthy, restful sleep.

Imagine coming home after a long day at work and you need to think about dinner, ensuring the kids have their homework done, paying bills, past events that caused you depression or even worrying about the future, may cause you to stay up at night.  Chronic illnesses that produce long lasting pain or irritability may also be a factor for inadequate sleep. Sleeping aids help in these situations by slowing down activity of the brain and producing a calming, relaxing effect that will induce sleep.

Long-term side effects of sleeping pills

A few examples of these long-term side effects of sleeping pills are as follows:

·         Dependency: If a patient uses the therapeutic on a regular nightly or daily basis, they can form a dependency towards the pill and may find it difficult to withdraw or reduce the use of the medication.

Note: This is only where patients use the medication excessively and in higher doses than advised.

·         Tolerance: Some people may develop a high tolerance to the therapeutic if used in a prolonged period of time. Some may even increase their dosage to induce sleep, as a result of their regular dosage not being effective anymore.

Short-term sleeping pills side-effects

·         Impaired activities: Because of individuals being biologically different, each person will experience different side effects of the sleep-inducing medication. For most, the effects of the therapeutic will wear off after a few hours, while very few may still experience drowsiness even the next day. This feeling of sleepiness or drowsiness may affect a person’s daily activities such as work, studying, and driving among other activities. These impaired activities may lead to other problems such as poor quality of work, less concentration, inability to study, or even accidents. In some extreme cases, patients reported erratic behaviour such as sleepwalking and amnesia. These are very rare cases, however, as most patients using the medication as intended experience no unwanted effects.

·         Withdrawal symptoms: This may occur when a patient abruptly withdraws from using the therapeutic. Common withdrawal symptoms include: depression, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and headaches. These withdrawal symptoms do not last for long as our brain has the ability to adjust; hence, patients can learn to live without sleep-inducing medication after a course is complete.

·         Interactions with other medication: Sleeping pills side effects may worsen when co-administered with other medication, such as – anti-depressants, painkillers, chronic medication, and so on. Side effects of such may include allergic reactions, nausea and vomiting, and aches (especially in the abdomen and head).

To avoid or minimise risks of side effects, patients should use in the recommended dosage and for the treatment period required.

General precautions when using sleeping pills

Although these therapeutics aid in promoting good quality and quantity of sleep, if abused or misused, these therapeutics can cause side effects ranging from mild to serious (mentioned above). Hence, it is useful to take the necessary precautions in order to avoid or reduce the risk of side effects. The following are some general precautions when using sleep medication or tablets:

·         Avoid using sleep-inducing medication frequently and only take them when you are unable to fall asleep, in order to reduce the risk of side effects.

·         If you feel that you have developed a dependency towards any of the therapeutics mentioned previously, make sure you consult your doctor or research further online, on a way forward to reduce the use. Usually methods like tapering, behavioural therapy or even substitute medications can help.

·         Do not take sleeping tablets with alcohol or other sedative medication. This may increase risk of erratic behaviour and impaired functioning.

·         Take sleeping medication only when you are certain to have at least 7-9 hours of sleep. If the hours of sleep are shorter, then the effects of the pill may last longer progressing into your day and affecting your daily routine.

·         Do not drive after taking a sleeping pill as this may impair your vision and cause drowsiness which in turn increases the risk of accidents.

·         Make sure to read and understand the patient information leaflet that you will receive together with your medication and consult your doctor for further advice.