Please welcome Dr. Anthony DiMarco, MD, Medical Director and Professor of Physiology at Case Western Reserve University
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Health Effects of Long-Term Sleeping Pill Use

Health Effects of Long-Term Sleeping Pill Use

Americans experience a lot of sleepless nights. An unprecedented 50-70 million Americans have sleep problems according to estimates. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder and the CDC says that more than one third of the country regularly gets less than the recommended amount of rest. With so many people struggling to get enough sleep, sleeping pills have become increasingly popular.

Prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids are meant to be used occasionally, but people are depending on them more and more for nightly relaxation. Medical experts are concerned with this trend because of the negative long-term health effects of these drugs.

Long-Term Use of Prescription Sleep Aids

Sleeping pills are drugs categorized as sedative-hypnotics. The most commonly prescribed medications are Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta. These are powerful drugs which are supposed to be used in small doses and only for short-term treatment of insomnia and other sleep disturbances. A patient’s need for prescription sleep aid should be re-evaluated after just 10-28 days. This is clearly stated in the drug information provided to patients by the pharmaceutical company.

Relying on sleeping pills for longer periods of time or in higher doses increases the likeliness that that person will experience negative side effects. Some of the health issues that have been associated with these medications include:

  • Headaches,
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness,
  • Nausea and vomiting,
  • Sleep walking,
  • Hallucinations,
  • Impaired motor skills and lack of coordination,
  • Daytime drowsiness, and
  • Depression.

Additionally, drugs like Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta have been connected to an increased risk for falls, injuries and car accidents. Some research has also shown a significantly higher diagnosis of cancer for patients regularly taking sleeping pills. According to the FDA, sleep aids can have dangerous effects by decreasing blood pressure, the heart and breathing rate if taken together with other prescription medications.

The Risk of Dependency & Addiction

The Journal of the American Medical Association has found that more than 68% of patients prescribed sleeping pills take them for longer periods than advised. They also found that many were taking larger quantities than the prescribed dosage. This trend is a problem because these controlled substances are habit forming. There is a high risk of becoming dependent on sleeping pills. There is also a danger of becoming psychologically dependent on taking a pill to help you relax and fall asleep.

Most people do not understand that they have formed an addiction to the medication until they try to stop taking it. Here are the warning signs of a dependence on these types of drugs:

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not taken,
  • Being unsuccessful at stopping,
  • Anxiety when the medication is not available,
  • Requesting refills from multiple doctors, and
  • Frequent memory loss.

If you think you may be struggling with a drug dependency or are concerned about a loved one, please seek professional help. You can find more information from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Long-Term Use of Over-the-Counter Medications

Medical professionals are also concerned about the number of Americans who rely on over-the-counter drugs to help them sleep. Medications, like Benadryl and Tylenol PM containing diphenhydramine, may seem harmless but can have a strong effect on the body. These drugs decrease brain function making it difficult to stay alert.

Non-prescription these types of medications can affect learning and memory in the long term and can be especially dangerous for seniors. For example, research by the Journal of the American Medical Association has found a strong link in regular use of these drugs and dementia.

Watch this video to learn more about the safety concerns related to over-the-counter sleep aids.

Learn more about the 10 Effects of Long-Term Sleep Deprivation.

Why Aren’t You Sleeping?

Sleeping pills are not a valid long-term treatment for insomnia or other sleep disorders. They can have serious side effects for your health, but they also do not solve the problem. Regular reliance on medications can actually keep someone from being properly diagnosed.

To successfully address the issue, it is first necessary to identify the underlying sleep disorder with the help of sleep testing. There are drug-free, long-lasting therapy options available for people struggling with ongoing sleep deprivation. For example, cognitive behavior therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for stress-related problems and insomnia.

If you are having problems falling asleep or getting enough rest during the night, talk to your physician about a clinical sleep evaluation. Do not become a victim of long-term sleep deprivation. Contact Sleep Health Solutions to schedule a consultation today.

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