Sleep aids are sedatives and hypnotics — most of them Central Nervous System (CNS) depressors — that are suppose to raise the levels of certain chemicals in the brain to help people get to sleep.
Sedatives are substances that, for almost everyone, calm your nerves and make you feel more relaxed, and often, sleepy.
Hypnotics, with a few exceptions, are generally the same or similar substances, but prescribed in higher doses to rapidly induce sleep.
A recent trend is to simply call sleep aids ‘sedative-hypnotics’ without bothering to differentiate between the two classes.
Many sleep aids come with unwanted side effects, and some have the potential for dependence and addiction.
MOST-COMMON SLEEP AIDS
- Tylenol PM
- Unisom Gel Caps
- Nighttime Sleep Aid
OPIATES OR FULLY/SEMI-SYNTHETIC OPIOIDS
BRAIN CHEMISTRY, DEPENDENCE AND SIDE EFFECTS
Each sleeping aid drug alters the chemical activities and balances in your brain and body in some way. Often by accident, or through trial and error, scientists found that people tended to feel relaxed and sleepy when taking a certain drug. If it didn’t also cause outrageous side effects or kill someone, it was added to the list of sleep aids.
Some are more powerful than others, some bring more side effects than others, and some carry much more potential for dependence and addiction than others.
But there are some problems to consider, the most glaring of which is that sleep aids do nothing to cure the cause of insomnia. And in the longer term, they can actually make the problem worse.
First of all, no one actually knows what the ‘normal’ level of the affected brain chemicals are suppose to be. And since each of us has a unique DNA and metabolism, no two people react exactly the same way to any drug.
For example, some people get the opposite response to a drug than was intended. Rather than relaxed and sleepy, they become hyperactive or even manic. Someone might feel drowsy and forgetful the next day, but someone else does not.
This makes sleep aids a hit-or-miss thing for many people. Tinkering with brain chemistry should not be taken lightly.
DEPENDENCE, ADDICTION AND WITHDRAWAL
Messing with brain chemistry is what brings about drug dependence, which can lead to addiction in some people.
Dependence is when you try to stop taking a drug and you experience one or more uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal for that particular drug. Your brain chemistry has been altered by the drug, and now is protesting to your body, mind and emotions at not getting more of the it. Also, some sleep aids cause your brain and body to build up a tolerance for it, meaning you need more and more of it just to achieve the same effect.
Withdrawing from some sleep aids can result in severe withdrawal problems, not just simply annoying, but agonizing and possibly life threatening. This depends of course on your own unique metabolism and DNA, the type of drug, and how long you took it.
Addiction is evident by a couple of factors, including taking the drug to get high or experience its euphoric effects rather than just getting to sleep with it. It also is evident when you are willing to go unreasonably beyond your normal habits and routines to get that drug.
Some sleep aids, particularly benzodiazepines and barbiturates, can rapidly lead to physical dependency, and from there to addiction. Withdrawal from any prescription drug can should always be monitored by your physician but withdrawal from benzodiazepines and barbiturates are even more dangerous than most..
Many of these drugs have unwanted side effects, and some of them are extremely serious.
Some of the side effects of the sleep aids are:
- Tolerance and dependence mean you need to consume more and more of the drug for it to work, or you may come to rely on it to sleep at all. R
- Withdrawal symptoms can occur when you stop taking some sleep aids, which can include nausea, sweating, shaking, extreme anxiety, and many more uncomfortable symptoms. Stopping the drug can also cause what is called ‘rebound insomnia’ which is even worse insomnia than before starting the drug.
- Sleep aids can cause drowsiness in the morning and all the next day, forgetfulness, confusion, and uncomfortably dry mouth. Some drugs used as sleep aids cause severe side effects, ranging from shortness of breath, chest pains and heart palpitations to nightmares, depression, amnesia, suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and even worse insomnia than before taking the drug.
- Sleep aids can create dangerous interactions with other drugs, and even with some foods. Prescription painkillers and other sedatives are particularly dangerous with alcohol as well as other CNS depressant drugs.
- Sleep aids can mask underlying health problems, whether physical, mental or emotional. Some sleep disorders can easily be treated — even some that are potentially life threatening such as sleep apnea — but these need to be diagnosed, not hidden beneath a haze of drugs.
Because of the many undesirable side effects, and because they do not actually address the root causes of insomnia (unless it is chronic pain with a known source), many doctors these days prefer to assess patients’ sleep problems from a medical viewpoint. They look for physical, emotional and life activity causes before resorting to risky drugs. For example, thryroid problems create sleep problems. For many ladies, treating hormone problems eliminated their sleep problems.
For a more complete list of side effects of many sleep aids, please see the full individual sections for Antidepressants, Antianxiety drugs, Antipsychotics, and Benzodiazepines, and Pain Killers. These are all represented by one or more examples as sleep aids, and are fully described in their own sections on this web site.
MEDICALLY ASSISTED WITHDRAWAL
Withdrawal from some sleep aids can be severe. People trying to stop taking their sleep aids need to slowly taper off their dosages to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
A medical drug detox program that addresses a your state of health and your specific metabolic needs, and that provides the necessary nutritional support, monitors your hydration, and applies various other therapeutic measures if needed, goes a long way to avoid the worst of sleeping aid withdrawal symptoms. This kind of medical drug detox program has been proven safer, faster and more reliably comfortable than all other systems currently in use.