Sleep Aids: What You Need to Know
by Bethanne Black
It is 2:00 a.m. and you are staring at the ceiling. You check the clock every five minutes to calculate how much sleep you can squeeze in before the alarm jolts you awake. You have tried warm milk and relaxation tapes, yet you are still wide-awake. Should you take a sleeping pill?
If this sounds like your nightly routine, take heart. Insomnia affects millions of people, and sleep aids and other remedies claiming to solve the problem are plentiful. What is the best course of action and how do you know if sleeping pills or other sleep preparations are safe enough for regular use?
Talk to Your Doctor First
Before taking an over-the-counter sleep aid, talk to your doctor. These sleep aid medicines are not safe for everyone. Talking to your doctor may also help you find the triggers that keep you up at night and help you find a solution that works. Keep in mind that insomnia not only results in considerable nighttime distress for the insomnia sufferer, it is associated with next-day impairment, and may even have effects on health and mood.
What works for your neighbor may not work for you. Insomnia treatments may be short or long term, depending on your problem. It is important to know what options are available so you can minimize any effects on your sleeping patterns.
Over-the-Counter vs. Prescription Medication TOP
Sleeping pills are available over-the-counter and by prescription. Use these tips when considering the use of sleep aids:
Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids TOP
Many over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines, while others contain the hormone melatonin.
Sleep aids containing antihistamines are common. They include medicines, such as Tylenol PM, Nytol, and Unisom, among others. Some people take a pure antihistamine drug, such as Benadryl, to help them fall asleep. The main problem with these remedies is known as the hangover effect. The next morning you may feel sluggish, sleepy, or have difficulty performing daily tasks.
Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted in the brain and helps our bodies regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is sold as a dietary supplement, rather than as a medicine and is therefore not subject to regulation by the Food and Drug Administration for standards of potency and purity, so proceed with caution. There is some research that supports that melatonin may help treat jet lag. If you decide to try melatonin, talk to your doctor.
Prescription Medications TOP
There are several prescription sleep aids available. Commonly prescribed classes of drugs include: benzodiazepines, nonbenzodiazepine, melatonin-receptor agonists, and antidepressants.
Sleep aids come with side effects and some may be associated with dependency with higher doses and longer treatment. Make sure that you use the medications as directed and monitor any problems you may be having with the medication.
Side effects TOP
According to the National Sleep Foundation, many factors can influence potential side effects of prescription sleep aids, including:
"Rebound Insomnia" TOP
High doses of sleep medicines may result in what is known as rebound insomnia. This occurs when a person stops taking a sleep medicine and then experiences a few nights of insomnia that is more severe than what was originally experienced prior to treatment. Rebound insomnia generally occurs with medicines that have a short or intermediate half-life and can be avoided by slowly tapering the dose. Consult your physician prior to stopping or changing your dose.
Healthy Sleep Habits TOP
The goal is to have healthy sleep habits, which may prevent the need for sleep aids. Here are some tips for a better nights sleep:
Whether you decide to take medication or not, incorporate these sleep tips into your routine.
If you suffer from chronic insomnia, see your doctor. You may be experiencing a symptom of a larger problem, such as clinical depression or a sleep disorder. Your doctor will help you find the treatment plan or medicine that is best for you.
National Center on Sleep Disorders Research
National Sleep Foundation
Better Sleep Council Canada
The Canadian Sleep Society
Healthy Sleep Tips. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: http://www.sleepfo.... Accessed December 27, 2012.
Melatonin. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthlibrary/. Updated July 25, 2012. Accessed December 27, 2012.
Sack RL, Auckley D, Auger RR, et al. Circadian rhythm sleep disorders: Part I, basic principles, shift work and jet lag disorders. Sleep. 2007;30:1460-1483.
Sleep Aids and Insomnia. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: http://www.sleepfo.... Accessed December 27, 2012.
Last reviewed December 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 12/27/2012