Before taking prescription sleeping medications, there are several things about them you should know. Prescription sleeping pills have become extremely common. They are so common that it is to not unusual to see a commercial on TV for them or flip through a magazine and find an advertisement for them. With so many people taking them and so many advertisements, it can be very easy to think these medications are a safe way to solve a sleeping problem. However, they do come with risks, which is one thing you need to know before taking prescription sleeping medications.
1. Impaired Thinking
A major side effect of prescription sleeping medications is impaired thinking the day after you take them. Your thought processes can be slower, you can experience confusion about identity, place, and time, and you can make mistakes you normally wouldn’t make. Controlled studies even show that students perform worse on exams when they take a sleeping pill. Before taking prescription sleeping medications it is important to understand that almost all sleeping pills also immediately impair memory, which lasts into the following day. There are only a few prescription sleeping medications that leave your system fast enough to be mostly gone by morning. These include Ambien, Sonata, and Halcion. Lunesta and Ambien CR will result in impairment that lasts longer throughout the day.
2. Impaired Performance
Another serious side effect of sleeping medications is impaired performance, especially impaired driving performance. In fact, Ambien is on the top ten list of drugs that impair driving ability. Ambien and other sleeping medications are meant to be taken when you can stay in bed for eight hours. If you get up and go to work before this, your driving ability can be impaired to that of someone who is intoxicated. Sleeping medications can slow reaction time and impair coordination, which is bad enough when you are trying to perform simple tasks, but dangerous if you are driving.
3. Meant for Short Term Use
One thing you might not know about sleeping medications is that they are only meant to be used for short periods of time. When these medications are used for longer periods you can develop resistance to the medication. Also, it is possible to become dependent on prescription sleeping medications. Because of these reasons, persistent insomnia can’t be cured with sleeping medications. They are really only meant for occasional problems with sleep.
4. Different Classes of Sleeping Medications
All sleeping medications are sedative hypnotics, which work by slowing down the nervous system. Under this umbrella, there are several different classes that work in slightly different ways. Benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics are the oldest class of sleeping pills, and they have the highest risk of dependence. They are more likely to cause next day drowsiness and impaired thinking, and they can lose their effectiveness in as little as 3 to 4 weeks. Prosum, Dalmane, Doral, Restoril, and Halcion fall under this category. Non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics act in a similar manner but with fewer side effects, and they have been tested for up to 6 months of use. However, they can cause depression, headaches, and rebound insomnia. Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta are included in this class. Melatonin receptor agonist hypnotic sleeping pills, like Rozerem, mimic the sleep hormone melatonin. They have little risk of dependence, but they are usually only useful for those who have trouble falling asleep, not staying asleep. Antidepressants are different class of medication that are occasionally used for sleep problems; however, this is an off label use.
5. Do Not Promote REM Sleep
There are 5 stages to the sleep cycle, with the last being REM sleep. This last stage is the most restful. REM stands for rapid eye movement, and this is also the stage where dreaming occurs. The problem with sleep medications is that people taking them rarely reach this stage. As a result, they don’t often feel rested the next day, which can defeat the purpose of taking the medication. To my knowledge, most people take sleeping pills in order to feel rested.
6. Serious Side Effects
Sleeping pills have some very serious side effects that you should be aware of if you are considering taking them. They can cause severe allergic reactions, memory lapses, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts or actions. Prescription sleeping medications have also been known to cause sleep walking, sleep driving, and sleep eating. These are all dangerous side effects that need to be taken into consideration and should be discussed with your doctor.
7. Following Directions is Important
It is important to follow directions for all of your medications, and sleeping pills are no different. As I mentioned before, you need to be sure you can get 8 hours of sleep when you take them, and you should try to take them at roughly the same time every night. Also, you should never mix alcohol with sleeping medications because it can lead to dangerous interactions. You should also avoid driving until you know how you will be affected by the medication. For this reason, it is probably a good idea to start taking them on a weekend.
Sleep problems are common, and so are prescription sleep medications. However, these medications should not be taken lightly as they come with serious side effects and aren’t meant for long term use. If you do have a sleep problem, often it can be solved by making simple changes to your routine like turning off electronics 30 minutes before bed and going to bed at the same time every night. What do you do to help yourself fall asleep?