The Hidden Dangers of Sleeping Pills
Updated: Mar 19, 2019
When you’re struggling with sleep, it is can be very tempting to think that sleeping pills are a quick fix. Unfortunately, with many pharmaceutical products, often the ‘cure’ is worse than the disease. And sleeping pills are no exception.
With annual global sales of over $1 billion , the market for sleeping pills is making pharmaceutical executives very rich. But are they being open and transparent about the dangers of these 'helpful' pills?
So what are the dangers that I’m talking about?
Here are six important reasons you should re-think your usage of sleeping pills, even if it’s only occasional.
1) Sleeping pills don’t induce natural sleep
Some medications are termed ‘sedative hypnotics’ like diazepam. Sleeping pills target the same system in the brain that alcohol does – the receptors that stop your brain cells from firing. They knock out the higher regions of your brains cortex. The electrical type of ‘sleep’ these drugs produce is lacking the largest, deepest brainwaves. And that deep sleep is critical to cementing learning and memories.
2) Sleeping pills impact your ability to function the next day
These pills’ side effects are daytime forgetfulness, grogginess and slow reaction times all of which can impact your driving as well as your performance at work and at home. This medication ‘hangover’ can also causes people to reach for more caffeine to clear their head - kicking off a vicious cycle of making it harder to fall asleep again that night.
3) Rebound Insomnia
A deeply unpleasant side effect of sleeping pills is when you stops taking these medications, you frequently suffer far worse sleep. Sometimes even worse than the poor sleep that led you to take sleeping pills to begin with. Your body builds up a tolerance for the drug and when the drug is stopped there is withdrawal process which involves a spike in insomnia severity.
4) Memory Loss
Sleeping pills weaken the brain-cell connections that are formed when we are learning – so an Ambien-laced sleep can become a memory eraser rather than natural deep sleep which is a memory enhancer. Additionally, many over the counter sleeping pills have now been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
5) Using sleeping medication increases your likelihood to die significantly
Yes – you read that correctly. In this powerful study looking at people taking zolpidem and temazepam – those taking sleeping pills were 4.6 times more likely to die than those who didn’t use them. Even occasional users, taking just eighteen pills a year were 3.6 times more likely to die. There are now fifteen such studies from different groups around the world showing higher rates of mortality in those who use sleeping pills.
6) You may be 30 – 40% more likely to get cancer
Again – this is no joke. This same study also looked at the cancer rates among the cohort. On average zolpidem (Ambien) users had a 30% greater likelihood of developing cancer and temazepam users had an even higher risk of more than 60% likelihood.
Hopefully that gives you plenty of cause to pause and reflect on your own sleeping pill usage. For me, the dangers far outweigh the benefits and something that could seem like a life-saver, is in fact quite the opposite.
In the end, it's important to remember that at a basic level, sleeping pills don't fix the problem of long-term bad sleeping habits.
Finding a way to get to sleep without taking the medicines is possible – however it does often involve a lot of trial and error.
Talk to your doctor and see if natural remedies like melatonin can work.
Look at your pre-bed habits and see how you can improve them. (You can download my free guide to setting up a pre-sleep routine here.
Try some relaxation techniques like yoga, massage or meditation. You can download a free guided meditation for sleep here.
Find a support group or enlist the help of a sleep coach or CBT therapist to help you find the right solution for you.
p.s. - think you may have a problem with sleeping pills? Some signs that sleeping pill use has gotten out of control include:
- Having several failed attempts to quit
- Getting cravings for sleeping medications
- Seeing more than one doctor for prescription refills
- Continuing to take pills despite negative consequences
- Experiencing frequent memory loss from the pills
If you are someone you know is experiencing issues with sleeping pills – you can get advice from a free 24/7 hotline here.