This is a question I get asked quite frequently and, like most questions about sleep, there’s no definitive answer. Are sleeping pills safe? Compared to what? Drugs are probably safer than downing an entire bottle of scotch to try and get some sleep. To put it in a few words, they are safe enough if used for a short time only and with full knowledge of the potential side effects.
The main problem with these drugs are they are used long term when they are not supposed to be. Yes there are different types of pills that can be taken for a longer time, but even they can’t be taken indefinitely. The majority of sleeping tablets are only designed for use over a week or so at most, yet people are being prescribed these drugs over and over again by their doctor. This is mainly because the doctor in question probably has few alternatives. There is nothing else to prescribe and no advice they can really give.
Sleeping pills are only a temporary answer to sleep problems and insomnia. They may help you go to sleep, but they’re not addressing the cause of the insomnia. What’s stopping you from sleeping? Is it worry or anxiety? Worry tends to be worse at nights when we’re lying there with nothing to do except think. All the problems you are currently facing tend to come crowding into your mind at night.
This of course will stop you from relaxing enough to fall asleep. You need to get these problems out of your head and down on paper before turning off the light. Tell yourself you will sort them out in the morning.
Maybe you’re experiencing pain or discomfort that’s keeping you awake. Treat the pain before going to bed. People suffering from sleep apnea can find using a CPAP machine quite uncomfortable. These days there are lightweight CPAPs that are less obtrusive. See if you can be fitted with a more comfortable device.
Then there are those who site in front of the TV or computer screen until bedtime. Then wonder why they can’t fall asleep. The main reason is the bright light from these devices will stop melatonin formation and your sleep cycle will be affected. Switch of an hour before bed and do something more relaxing.
These suggestions may help a little, but here’s a run down on the types of sleeping pills available today if you really can’t do without them….
Over the counter sleep aids are mainly made up of anti-histamines which have a slight sedative effect. They are all very similar and may help over the short term.
Prescription sleeping pills consist of two main types. Those that help you fall asleep and those that help you stay asleep. Some of them claim to do both.
To help you fall asleep, the following may be prescribed:
Lunesta, Halcion, Sonata, Rozerem and Ambien are a few. These are US names and may be called something else in other countries.
Those that help you stay asleep are as follows:
Lunesta, Ambien CR, Restoril and Silenor are commonly prescribed for those who have problems with frequent waking.
Natural sleeping pills are safer as they have a different action on the body. These may not be as instant, but will work well if you persevere. Herbal sleeping pills can still have some side effects so you need to follow the directions on the pack.
I have not gone into the side effects of any of these medications yet. We will do this in the next post. We’ll also look at some safe sleeping pills to take if you are pregnant.