• Martha Lewis

Sleeping pills: the good, the bad, and the downright scary

Americans will spend $52 billion on sleep aids in 2020!

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 and they will probably make the problem worse in the long run. 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 thing is, they’re using a medical solution for what’s usually a non-medical problem.

It’s true, sleeping pills may help in the short-term. They can help you fall asleep faster, by a whopping 15 minutes on average. And they increase total sleep time by only 3-30 minutes.

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. Side effects of sleeping pills: -brain fog -diff waking up -high blood pressure -memory loss -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. You can find out more about melatonin in this article.

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’ll get to watch 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.

"Zolpidem defense"

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 Bottom Line?

Sleeping pills have their place for short-term use. In my opinion (and I hope yours too after reading this!), it's too easy to become dependent and the side effects aren't worth it.

The solution to your sleep problems is to deal with the root cause of your sleeplessness so you get the natural, restorative sleep you need. That’s exactly what I do in my Boss Sleep Solution program!

What are the side effects of natural sleep?

-wake up rested and refreshed

-have energy all day

-greater ability to focus and concentrate

-better memory

-decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, depression, diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Now those are some side effects I’ll take any night of the week! How about you?

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Martha Lewis, MS, APSC

Jackson Hole, WY



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© 2020 by Complete Sleep Solution, LLC | Sleep Consulting Services

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed on this site and by Martha Lewis and guests are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. Please consult a local physician or other health care professional for your specific health care and/or medical needs or concerns. Information on this website is provided for informational purposes only and not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. Martha Lewis provides information based on her thorough education and encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read on this website. Information provided on this website and the use by you of any products or services referenced on this website DOES NOT create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Martha Lewis. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.