ARE SLEEP MEDICATIONS SAFE?

Dr. Diana L Walcutt Health Guide December 18, 2008
  • One wonders how many people actually use something to sleep at night. Whether it's a prescription, over the counter (OTC) or alcohol, nearly ALL of us will use something to help us sleep at some point.  Each of us is likely to suffer from at least one bout of insomnia  in our lifetime. We have become a society where even a little loss of sleep can cause panic which leads to more than a single bad night.

     

    Take into account how the world's news, current family issues or personal struggles can leave us sitting up at night worried. I have worked with many people who complain of sleep deprivation from worries, chronic pain, or mood disorders and they ask for some quick fix.

     

    Unfortunately, there are those of us who cannot get any sleep without some kind of sleep aid, and I have a number of patients who take Ambien or Lunesta, which are a vast improvement over the old benzodiazepines. At least these two "new" drugs aren't as addictive or problematic. Allegedly.  Ambien has warnings now about sleep walking, sleep driving, sleep eating, which causes some serious concerns, doesn't it? The problem is, if you are doing these things, you may not even know that you are.

     

    Here's another concern that I have noticed over the past few years. People taking Ambien or Lunesta become more depressed than they normally are, that is, they begin having suicidal thoughts, tearful episodes with no discernable cause, and feel chronically tired. How is an intrusive thought of wanting to die a fair trade over some fatigue?

     

    There are alternatives for many of us. Rozerem is actually a good alternative for other approaches, since it's not physiologically (note: I do not mean PSYCH-ologically) addictive, does not trigger depressive episodes and has no known side effects of sleep walking. Then, there are always the over the counter medications such as Tylenol PM. All of the OTC meds that I have researched have Benadryl (diphenhydramine) as the sleep aid. It's not something magical, but it works very well for simple insomnia.

     

    Again, however, there are side effects with Benadryl. Concerns over dryness, increased snoring, and long term use raises questions of the effect on the vascular system.

     

    If you have a long-standing problem, one of the things that you should do before reaching for the drugs is to consult with a sleep clinic to diagnose your problem; it may be sleep apnea, which is treatable. It may be some other physical problem that needs attention. If there is no medical issue that is evident, consider trying relaxation techniques or tapes, don't exercise within 2 hours of bed, use your bed for sleep and sex ONLY, no TV, reading, snacking.

     

    If you are going to have a snack near bedtime, avoid caffeinated foods and beverages, avoid cheese (causes bizarre and often frightening dreams), and, above all else, avoid alcohol. Sure, it helps you fall asleep, but you will only wake up a couple of hours later when the alcohol wears off and the buzz from the sugar hits you. Reduce fluid intake so that you don't have to make excess bathroom runs in the middle of the night, either.

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    Remember a couple of things here; working or driving sleep-deprived is the same as doing it drunk. If that works for you, please stay off the road so you don't run the rest of us over?

     

    Good night and sweet dreams.

     

    Related Links:

    Sleep Disorders - long term sleep medications

    New sleep medications in the works

    Internet Psychotherapy? Does It Work?