Many people these days have trouble sleeping. Recent statistics show that about 20% of people around the world are sleep-deprived, thanks to a variety of reasons such as lifestyle changes and anxiety from work or relationship issues.
With this increasing number of people who are having trouble sleeping, it’s little wonder that the number of people who are taking prescription sleep aids to cope with their sleeping issues is also on the rise.
It may not seem like a big deal – after all, lots of people are on some form of medication or other these days – but before you turn to prescription sleeping pills to help you sleep, you should make sure that you’re fully aware of all the risks involved.
What are Prescription Sleep Aids?
Most prescription sleep aids are classified as “sedative hypnotics”, which are a specific class of drugs that are used to induce and/or maintain sleep. Sedative hypnotics include benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and various other types of hypnotics.
No matter what the type, all sedative hypnotics can potentially be addictive, remain in the system for a long time, cause problems with memory and attention, and are potentially fatal if taken in excess amounts.
Dangers of Prescription Sleep Aids
Like all other types of medications, sleeping pills can cause side effects – though you may not know if you’ll experience any side effects from a particular medication until you have tried it.
These are some of the common side effects that you may experience:
- Burning or tingling in extremities (hands, arms, feet, legs)
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty keeping balance
- Prolonged drowsiness
- Memory and performance problems
Some types of prescription sleeping medications can also cause acute allergic reactions in certain people, so if you’re at risk, make sure to discuss potential side effects with your doctor beforehand.
Besides these common side effects, other long-term dangers of taking sleeping pills include:
Daytime Drowsiness and Impaired Function
Many people who take prescription sleep medication complain of drowsiness and impaired function the following day. The effects of the drugs can linger in the system for hours after taking them, making people feel tired in the morning (and sometimes throughout the entire day).
Women in particular tend to metabolize certain drugs more slowly than men, and may need to take a lower dosage.
This prolonged drowsiness can lead to impaired function, making it dangerous to engage in certain activities such as driving or operating heavy machinery.
A study by the American Journal of Public Health found that people who took sleeping pills were twice as likely to be involved in a car accident than other people, while another report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed that the number of emergency room visits related to zolpidem (an active ingredient in many prescription sleep aids) has doubled in recent years.
(NOTE: If you’re taking prescription sleeping pills, make sure not to mix the pills with alcohol and other substances, and never take more than the prescribed dosage.)
Erratic Sleep-related Behaviour
Some people who take prescription sleep aids are prone to potentially dangerous sleeping behaviors, like sleepwalking, sleep eating, and even sleep driving.
These are known as parasomnias – movements, behaviours and actions over which you have no control or awareness, which are performed in your sleep.
These can be difficult to detect, as you will have no recollection or knowledge of performing these behaviors. Many people have found themselves waking up with no idea where they are or what they did the night before, and some have even walked outside of their homes while fast asleep (or fallen down stairs).
If you, your partner or a family member notice any erratic sleep behaviors occurring as a result of taking sleeping pills, it’s best to stop taking them immediately and inform your doctor.
Developing a Tolerance
Some people may find themselves developing a tolerance to their prescribed sleep medication over time, leading them to try taking more than the recommended dosage as the pills become less effective.
However, it’s best not to exceed the dosage recommended by your doctor, as doing so can lead to health complications like breathing problems during sleep, or even death.
Difficulty Weaning off Sleeping Pills
If a person has been taking prescription sleeping pills for a long time, they may find that their sleeping problems return and worsen once they stop taking the drugs – a condition known as “rebound insomnia”.
If so, it’s usually not a good idea to stop taking your pills cold turkey. Instead, speak to a doctor about developing a schedule to gradually reduce your dosage and wean yourself off them in stages.
At the end of the day, it’s important to keep in mind that prescription sleep aids can have some risky long-term side effects, and won’t help fix your sleeping problems in the long run. Consider opting for healthy lifestyle changes such as cognitive behavioural therapy, regular meditation or a supplement like Nested Naturals LUNA Natural Sleep Aid.