Why not just take sleeping pills?

10 November, 2011

sleeping pills

sleeping pills

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”  Irish Proverb

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just take a pill and fall asleep, to wake feeling alert and refreshed the next morning?  This is the elusive goal that so many of the world’s drug companies are chasing.

Many people pop tablets every night in search of elusive sleep.  Some even have to continue taking a pill every hour until they eventually fall asleep.  A few, the late Michael Jackson included, have such severe sleeping problems that they have to be injected with a sleep medicine before being able to sleep.

Taking prescription sleep medications may be an appropriate course of action in some circumstances.  So, if you are currently using sleeping pills, you should consult your doctor before making any changes.

However, generally, sleeping medications should only be prescribed for short periods of time (sometimes as little as 7 days) and they should not be considered a long-term solution for insomnia.

But doctors often disregard these guidelines and prescribe sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines repeatedly for years, and even decades.

Sleeping pills can be associated with negative side-effects and you should be very wary of taking either prescription or OTC (over the counter non-prescription) sleep aids for too long, as tests for long-term effects are few and far between.

Side-effects of taking prescription sleeping pills include:

    • headaches
    • feeling groggy and sleepy the following day
    • dry mouth
    • dizziness
    • nausea
    • water retention
    • impaired daytime thinking
    • reduced alertness and vigilance
    • slow reaction times and judgment
    • suffering memory lapses
    • increased likelihood of sleep-walking (even sleep-driving, on accasion)
    • loss of coordination.


Side-effects have even been implicated in car accidents.  And they can be worse if you mix sleeping pills with alcohol.

Available research does not even offer much evidence that sleeping pills actually work very well.  Even if there is an initial benefit, you may find your body becomes tolerant to the drug and you need more and more over time even to maintain the effect.

Taking sleeping pills for prolonged periods can lead to dependency, with both the body and the mind becoming reliant on the drug.  Withdrawal from the medication can then produce its own set of physical and emotional symptoms, some of which can be even more severe than it was before taking the drug in the first place.  This is known as the “rebound effect”.

Yet prescribed sleep aids are the medical profession’s default treatment for insomnia with the vast majority of insomnia patients being prescribed this type of medication by their doctors.

Why is this?  It may be because alternative treatments need detailed consideration and require too much time and attention from your doctor, time that most medical professionals just can’t devote to individual patients.

Depending on which study you read, average duration of an appointment with your doctor is between 7 and 20 minutes.  That hardly leaves enough time for your doctor to get a grasp of the underlying cause of your sleeping problems.

But it may also be a direct result of the vast investment the drug companies make in advertising these drugs directly to us, the consumers.  Through constant exposure to advertising in the media, we have been persuaded that the drugs are not only effective but safe as well.

Many over the counter (OTC) sleep aids are not much better.  OTC sleeping pills usually contain an antihistamine, a drug that is generally taken to relieve allergies, hay fever and cold symptoms.

As you might have guessed from its name, an antihistamine is designed to suppress histamine, a chemical in the body which promotes wakefulness.  So taking antihistamine drugs will (in theory) encourage sleep.

But there isn’t a great deal of evidence out there that OTC sleep aids are effective, and many of the side-effects can be just as bad as prescription sleeping pills, including:

    • feeling lacklustre and sleepy the next day
    • blurred vision
    • constipation


Prescription or OTC medicine is not necessarily the best answer for insomniacs.  For many, it is essential that psychological problems, problems at work and with relationships, are resolved, hopefully resulting in better sleep.

For most of us, it is much better to try a more natural solution.  You can avoid the dangers and side-effects of taking sleeping pills, replacing them with a safe, natural programme to solve the underlying causes of a bad night’s sleep.

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