After several nights of watching the late late show, it is natural to consider taking a sleeping pill. Pharmaceutical sedatives will work, but they can become addictive and interrupt natural sleep cycles.
Over the counter sleep aids are somewhat milder, but also have harmful side effects. Before resorting to insomnia drugs or OTC sleep aids, let's look at some of the reasons we should be aware of their limitations and side effects.
Before we get into the limitations or the harmful side effects, you may like to listen to this audio by Dr. Peter Lin, a Toronto doctor recently speaking on CBC Radio. Although this powerful message looks at how sleeping pills effect seniors, it'll be worth your while listening to this whatever your age. He also suggest healthy sleep hygiene tips to get off sleeping pills ... tips recommended here when I first launched this site.
Insomnia Medications - Short-term Fix
Because drugs that induce sleep pose the risk of serious physical harm, they should only be considered a short term fix. Ongoing insomnia is merely the symptom of a physical or mental root-cause or quite often, bad sleep habits.
When we're exhausted due to long term sleep deprivation, the doctor may prescribe sleep aids for a limited duration. During that time, we should remain under the doctor's care in the event of serious side effects.
Prescription and over the counter (OTC) sleep aids share common side effects. They may include: "cotton" mouth, constipation, vertigo, focus problems, blurry vision, headaches and/or a drowsy or hung over feeling the following day.
Some lesser known, but severe side effects of insomnia medications include:
• hip fractures (2 times*)
• car accident (2 times*)
• memory problems (5 times*)
• dementia (50 times*)
• Itchiness, rash and/or hives
• Chest pain
• Difficulty swallowing
• Accelerated heartbeat
• Shortness of breath; trouble breathing
• Nausea and/or vomiting
• Swollen lips, eyes, face or tongue. Feeling of throat closure.
*listen to Dr. Peter Lin's interview above
Some sleeping drugs pose the risk of anaphylaxis, which is potentially lethal. Anaphylaxis is a sudden onset allergic reaction, which will cause hives and swelling, generally of the face and throat. If you have experienced hypersensitivity to medications previously, tell your doctor.
If you do experience anaphylaxis symptoms, report to an emergency room immediately. It is also possible to sleepwalk during the night with no awareness. Some people have even driven while asleep when taking sleeping pills.
What are the Side Effects of Your Drugs?
Try this easy-to-use tool for checking for the side effects of the sleep drugs you may be using. Always weight the benefits vs. the potential adverse health effects.
Are you taking any of these insomnia drugs? Do yourself a favor ... check the potential side effects:
Over the Counter Sleep Aids
If you've ever taken a Benadryl for allergies, during the daytime, you may have literally fallen asleep at your desk! Benadryl and other antihistamines cause sleepiness, which is the reason OTC sleep aids are primarily comprised from antihistamines. However, the sleepy feelings do not always resolve the following day, making it dangerous to drive or "operate heavy machinery". Performance and productivity in the workplace is also compromised by using insomnia medications.
Other genres of sleep aids include acetaminophen and/or
alcohol, in addition to antihistamines. Due to the lack of scientific
studies regarding the safety and efficacy of non-prescription sleeping
pills, it makes common sense not to take them. A better way is to
evaluate your current sleeping habits and
start replacing your bad habits with good ones.
While antidepressants are not a first-line treatment for insomnia, a strong relation between depression and sleeplessness has been proven by experts. People experiencing chronic pain from arthritis or fibromyalgia are generally sleep deprived and may also benefit from antidepressant use.
Antidepressants have their own set of side effects, such as upset stomach or headache, especially in the beginning. If serious side effects occur, you should consult with your doctor.
Natural Insomnia Medications
Valerian, Hops, Passionflower, Chamomile, Thyme, Wild Oats, Catnip, Black Currant, Linden Flower (Tilia), Hibiscus, Jamaica Dogwood, St. John's Wort, Skullcap, Wild Lettuce and Lavender are herbs known to promote relaxation and sleep.
If you do not have a serious medical condition that causes sleep challenges, natural insomnia cures, used with your doctor's approval, help prevent or relieve insomnia. Your local health food store carries herbal teas, tinctures and capsules, which when used according to directions promote safe and natural sleep.
Best results are achieved with tincture made of sleep-inducing herbs, such as: lemon balm, valerian, hops, passion flower and chamomile. Valerian is suggested as the best known herbal treatment, if an herbal tincture fails to work. Lemon balm also acts as a sedative.
You can also find some "sleep teas" containing calming herbal blends at your grocery store and health stores. Add boiling water to a small tea cup (especially if you are concerned about night time toilet breaks), steep for 3-4 minutes and sip while unwinding 30-40 minutes prior to going to bed.
See my personal favorite natural sleep tea recipe that gives me satisfying deep sleeps.
Heavenly Relief ... Aaaaah!
If you prefer not to drink tea at night, you can always have a relaxing and destressing bath using a blend of any of the above herbs. Just put herbs in a muslin-type bag and hang under the hot running water from the faucet. Adding magnesium, Epsom salt and/or magnesium oil, helps to relax tense or aching muscles.
The combination of both inhaling the herb infused steam and absorbing the herbal blend through your skin provides a wonderful calming sensation for both your brain and body. Your blissful sleep awaits without using insomnia medications.