Sleeping Pills: Are They Safe?

Getting a good night's rest and following a regular sleeping schedule is an important part of maintaining both your physical health as well as mental health. Recently, the FDA has sent warnings to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture common sleeping pills to change their product labels to include potential sleeping pills side effects that have posed some serious risks to consumers who suffer from insomnia.

In 2005, 43 million prescriptions for sleeping pills were filled by pharmacists, providing pharmaceutical companies with $2.7 billion for that year alone, marking a 32% increase from 2001. But are sleeping pills a safe way to treat sleep disorders? And what exactly causes insomnia? Would finding an alternative to sleeping pills for the treatment of sleep disorders provide a better solution for you?

Sleep Disorders and Sleeping Pills

According to the American Insomnia Association, approximately 20 000 Americans suffer from chronic insomnia, a sleep disorder that is defined by consistent poor sleep that is experienced for at least six months due to a variety of insomnia causes.

Generally, the causes of insomnia are due to lifestyle factors such as stress, travel, or other disruptions that can cause sleep deprivation. Treating the underlying causes of insomnia directly is always considered the best solution when it comes to sleep disorders.

Sleeping pills are often prescribed and on average are used regularly for a period of 24 months. While sleeping pills can also be used to treat the occasional sleepless night, some individuals may use these sleep drugs for years. The FDA concern over the side effects of common sleeping pills is based on the fact that many drug companies have only tested the short-term side effects of sleeping pills, as well as the fact that some of the potential risks of these sleep aids are not well addressed on drug labels. Those affected by long term diseases caused by sleeping pills should try finding an experienced attorney to see what their options are.

Types of Sleeping Pills

Over The Counter Sleeping Pills
These sleeping pills contain antihistamines to induce drowsiness and are effective when used occasionally. Over-the-counter sleeping pills do not require a prescription. Examples of these sleep medications are Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine.

Nonbenzodiazepine Hypnotic Medications
These sleeping pills are available by prescription only and are best suited for short-term or occasional use. They are designed to metabolize quickly to reduce side effects. Nonbenzodiazepine medications for insomnia treatment include Zolpidem Tartrate (Ambien), Zaleplon, and Eszopiclone.

Benzodiazepine Hypnotic Medications
Benzodiazepine sleeping pills are an older form of sleep medication and include Triazolam, Estazolam, and Temazepam.

Sedative Antidepressants
Sedative antidepressants may be prescribed in small doses to treat insomnia. These include Trazodone, Amitriptyline, and Nortriptyline.

Sleeping Pills Risks and Side Effects

Some of the risks and side effects associated with the use of sleeping pills for insomnia treatment include the following:

  • Over The Counter Sleeping Pills: dry mouth, dizziness, prolonged drowsiness.
    Risk Group:These are not recommended for pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, or individuals with a history of glaucoma, heart complications, or enlarged prostate. In addition, individuals with a history of asthma, bronchitis, or peptic ulcers should not use Doxylamine.
  • Nonbenzodiazepine Hypnotic Medications: dry mouth, diarrhea, dizziness prolonged drowsiness, headaches, rash, nausea, vomiting, decreased sex drive, chest pains, lightheadedness, and abdominal pain. In addition, these drugs may cause severe allergic reactions, facial swelling and sleep behaviors such as sleep driving, sleep walking, and eating.
    Risk Group: In some cases, certain nonbenzodiazepine sleeping pills may not b recommended for individuals with a history of depression, liver or kidney disease, respiratory conditions, drug or alcohol abuse, pregnant women, or those with complications affecting metabolism.
  • Benzodiazepine Hypnotic Medications: lightheadedness, dizziness, prolonged drowsiness, euphoria, episodes of amnesia, allergic reactions, facial swelling, sleep behaviours, weakness, coordination problems, low blood pressure, nausea, headache, blurred vision, and liver failure.
    Risk Group: These medications may pose risks to pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and elderly adults. In addition, they are not recommended for individuals with a history of depression, respiratory problems, and drug abuse as these sleeping pills can be habit-forming.
  • Sedative Antidepressants: sweating, weight fluctuations, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, prolonged drowsiness, blurred vision, cardiac complications or seizures.
    Risk Group: Sedative antidepressants may not be safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women and individuals with a history of heart problems, heart attacks, high blood pressure, seizures, hyperthyroidism, liver disease, glaucoma, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Sleeping Pills Alternatives

The best alternative to treating a sleep disorder can be dealing with a lifestyle factor, such as personal issues that may be a cause of stress or worry. Dietary supplements such as Melatonin may also be used to maintain a regular "biological clock" including a consistent sleeping schedule.

Take a More Natural Approach 

Some OTC natural sleep aids contain herbs and melatonin to help mimic the body's natural sleep cycle. Unlike sedative sleeping pills, most natural sleep aids can be taken if you wake up in the middle of the night, and won't leave you groggy in the morning.

Exercise is one of the best ways to release built-up energy and help induce tiredness through a natural and healthy approach. It is also recommended that individuals with difficulty sleeping avoid caffeine and day naps and take the time to relax prior to going to bed.

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