How to Get Off Sleeping Pills
Updated: Apr 29
Sleeping pills are going to make things worse for you. They aren’t good for you. They’re addictive, toxic and they don’t give you real sleep.
If you can’t sleep, your body isn’t making the feel-good chemicals dopamine, serotonin, GABA and melatonin like it should. Sleeping pills mess up your brain chemistry and make it even harder for your body to make these chemicals.
Medication for sleep has its place, like for jet lag or during acute stressful times. But these pharmaceuticals are not meant to be used long- term.
Out of 40,000 hours of training, doctors spend 0-3 hours learning about sleep in medical school. They don’t know much about sleep so when patients come to them complaining of insomnia, they prescribe a pill. The problem is they’re using a medical solution for what’s usually a non-medical problem.
Sleeping pills may help in the short-term. They can help you fall asleep faster, by 15 minutes on average. And they increase total sleep time by only 3-30 minutes.
The problems with sleeping pills
Sleeping pills actually sedate you so you don’t fall into natural sleep. They produce an imbalance in chemical signals and decrease the time you spend in REM and deep sleep.
Sleeping pills have side effects:
-difficulty waking up
-high blood pressure
-strange, unexplained behavior
Sleep aids are addictive and they aren't meant to be taken long-term. You will need to take more and more for them to work. When you stop taking them, you can also experience withdrawal and rebound insomnia which makes it really hard to quit.
Another reason these prescription pills can be scary is because they can mask other conditions such as anxiety, depression, asthma, allergies, ulcers, chronic pain, heart prob, diabetes, and dementia.
These pills can be dangerous, especially for those with sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea who normally have 2 to 18 apneas a night have 100 apneas a night when they take a sleeping pill!
Sleeping pills can make you feel hungover, groggy, and foggy because you spend less time in deep and REM sleep.
Kinds of sleeping pills
Supplements like herbs, CBD and melatonin don’t usually work by themselves unless you're making other changes, too.
Over the counter sleep aids are really antihistamines marketed to help with sleep. They have the side effects of clumsiness, dizziness, dry mouth and throat, and blurred vision.
There are 2 classes of prescription sleeping pills:
1. Benzodiazepines are 50 years old but are still prescribed. They are highly addictive and tolerance builds up quickly. They're most commonly used for anxiety and they include the drugs Valium, Librium, Ativan, and Xanax. The side effects can be increased anxiety, agitation, and memory dysfunction and they won’t work for more than 3 weeks.
2. Hypnotics are a new class of drugs that work on GABA receptors in the brain that controls alertness. These include Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. Zolpidem, the active ingredient in ambien, helps knock you out but won’t help you stay asleep. These sleep aids are marketed as being safer and less addictive.
If you google “Lunesta commercial,” you see a beautiful one minute ad of moth wings easing you into sleep. A full 30 seconds of the ad, however, lullingly lists the many side effects.
There have been reports of off behavior like people eating strange things, leaving their bathtubs running and their ovens on, sleep driving, calling people, and having sex all while "asleep." In 2010, almost 20,000 people in the US visited the ER from taking these drugs.
Sleeping pills can be scary
In several high-profile court cases, the defendants were given lesser charges or found not guilty for their crimes because they had taken zolpidem. Their lawyers were able to prove that they weren't responsible for their decisions because they had taken a sleeping pill and weren't aware of their actions.
Remember Roseanne Barr? Her popular show came back in 2017 after ending in 1997. Season 1 of the revival was the highest rated comedy TV show since 2014. Season 2 was abruptly cancelled by ABC because of a racist tweet she made. Roseanne's defense?
“It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting...Not giving excuses for what I did (tweeted) but I’ve done weird stuff while on ambien.” Too bad for her that the Zolpidem defense didn’t save her career!
The other solution for insomnia
You aren’t sleeping because your body isn’t healthy. Sleeping pills get your body even more out of whack. They’re a band-aid that doesn’t get to the root of the problem and makes everything worse.
To get off sleeping pills, you need to address why you can’t sleep first and work on fixing it. I use lab testing to find exactly what’s going on in your body that’s preventing you from sleeping. Then we start addressing everything that’s out of balance in both your body and your mind, using supplements, dietary changes and stress management techniques. Once you start sleeping better with these simple changes, then I help you wean off sleeping pills (with your doctor’s approval). Before you know it, you’ll be sleeping great without the help of any pills.
If you want to sleep naturally without the side effects of pills, it’s time to book a call with me. We’ll talk about how you’re sleeping now, how you wish you could sleep and the simple steps you can take to find what’s keeping you from sleeping so you can sleep better without meds for the rest of your life.