Sleep Aids

sleep aids

A sleep aid can be defined as an agent or drug with a soothing, tranquilizing or calming effect. This effect directly induces sleep, hence the name sleep aid…

As absurd as it might seem to most people, some people actually have trouble getting sleep. If the condition qualifies to be a medical condition, it is referred to as insomnia. It is important to note that lacking sleep doesn’t always have to be a medical problem.

It could be a behavioral problem i.e. lacking sleep because you have traveled across time zones. In such case, a behavioral treatment approach is required when treating lack of sleep.

The most common way of treating insomnia or lack of sleep is using sleeping pills. These are the most common types of sleep aids. It is important to note that relying too much on sleeping pills can result in tolerance and/or dependence. It is therefore advisable to consult a healthcare professional for examination as opposed to self-prescribing sleep pills and other forms of sleep remedies.

Types of sleeping aids

Sleep aids can be divided into three main groups namely; Over-the-counter, prescription and herbal sleep aids. Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories.

1. Over-the-counter sleep aids

As the name suggests, these pills can be bought without a prescription. The main ingredient of OTC or over the counter sleep aids is an antihistamine commonly sold using the brand name; Benadryl.

ZzzQuil Sleep AidThis medication is usually taken to treat common cold symptoms, hay fever and allergy. Another common OTC sleep aid is Diphenhydramine sold under brand names such as; Sominex, Nytol, Sleepinal and Compoz. Doxylamine is also a common OTC sleep aid sold under brand names; Nighttime and Unisom.

It is important to note that some OTC sleep aids are a combination of antihistamines and acetaminophen (a pain reliever). Such sleep aids are sold in brand names such as Anacin PM (Aspirin-free) and Tylenol PM. Other OTC sleep aids i.e. NyQuil combine alcohol with antihistamines.

Sleeping Pill Side effects

It is important to note that antihistamine OTC sleep aids are capable of producing side effects, some of which can become severe. It is therefore advisable to consult a healthcare professional before using any OTC sleep aid especially if you have the following medical conditions; glaucoma, enlarged prostate, breathing problems i.e. chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

You should also consult a doctor if you are currently taking or have taken antidepressants i.e. MAOI (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor) in the recent past. Consulting a doctor helps to avoid severe side effects which are common with the above medical conditions.

The most common side effect of OTC sleep aids is next-day drowsiness. Other side effects include;

a. Forgetfulness
b. Dizziness
c. clumsiness or feeling off balance
d. constipation
e. Blurred vision
f. Urinary retention
g. Dry throat and mouth

2. Prescription sleep aids

Prescription sleep aids, as the name suggests, can’t be bought without a doctor’s prescription. Prescription sleep aids are classified under sedative hypnotics which function by slowing down nervous system functions. Prescription sleep aids work in two main ways i.e. inducing sleep or helping one stay asleep. Some sleeping prescriptions last longer in your system than others. Some are accompanied by higher habit forming risks. Below are examples of common drawbacks found with prescription sleep aids.

a. Benzodiazepines sleep aids

lunesta sleeping pillsBenzodiazepines are undoubtedly the oldest sleep aids in the market today. They are usually sold as sleeping pills. They are known to have very high dependency risks compared to most insomnia sedative hypnotics.

They are therefore classified and sold as controlled substances. Benzodiazepine pills primarily treat anxiety disorders. They are however approved to treat insomnia.

Common Benzodiazepines include; estazolam whose brand name is ProSom, quazepam (Doral), flurazepam (Dalmane), triazolam (Halcion) and temazepam (Restoril).

Benzodiazepines drawbacks and side effects

You can become psychologically and physically dependent on benzodiazepines in instances where you use Benzodiazepine pills for a prolonged period of time. You may also experience withdrawal symptoms i.e. anxiety when you stop taking the pills suddenly. Another drawback is Benzodiazepines reduce the quality of sleep overtime. Benzodiazepine pills are also known to cause drowsiness which can worsen sluggishness caused by sleep deprivation.

b. Non-benzodiazepines sleep aids

The newest prescription sleep aids don’t have a benzodiazepine chemical structure. They however act on the same part of the brain to trigger sleep. Non-benzodiazepine sleep aids are believed to have fewer side effects. They are also less dependent. They are however still considered to be controlled substances. Examples of Non-benzodiazepine sleep aids include; zolpidem (Ambien), zalepon (Sonata) and eszopiclone (Lunesta). Brand name in brackets.

Non-benzodiazepines drawbacks and side effects

As mentioned above, Non-benzodiazepines have fewer drawbacks and side effects compared to benzodiazepines. This however doesn’t mean that they are suitable for everyone. For instance, Non-benzodiazepines aren’t effective for everyone. This is one of the most common drawbacks of Non-benzodiazepines. They also pose serious risks i.e. morning grogginess among women while driving.

Other common drawbacks/side effects include; drug tolerance, headaches, rebound insomnia, dizziness, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, nausea, sleep driving/walking/eating, depression and suicide thoughts.

3. Herbal sleep aids

As the name suggests, these sleep aids are taken in their natural form as herbs. A large percentage of people prefer herbal sleep aids because they are natural thus they attract very few or no side effects. Examples of herbal sleep aids include; chamomile tea and lemon balm.

These aids are generally harmless according to numerous studies. It is however important to note that there is a possibility of serious side effects with some individuals, especially when they are taken alongside prescription medicines. For instance, herbal sleep aids are known to react dangerously with anticancer medication, birth control pills and medications like blood thinners. It is therefore advisable to consult with your doctor before taking any herbal sleep aid.

Examples of herbal sleep aids include; chamomile, kava kava, valerian root, lemon balm, lavender, St. John’s Wort and passionflower. It is important to note that herbal sleep aids such as chamomile are associated with pollen or plant allergic reactions. Also, high doses of valerian root may cause blurred vision, vivid dreams, heart rhythm changes and excitability.

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