Sleep medication and its use and abuse

Dr Mohammed Shakeel, HOD-Emergency and Trauma, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan, how the excessive use of sleeping pills can abuse your body. Also, it may cause addiction for that drug. Dr Shakeel, explains how to take care and differentiate between use and abuse

Sleep medication and its use and abuse
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Insomnia or sleep disturbance is the most common of all sleep disorders. Insomnia is difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person is trying to sleep.

According to a report by the National Institutes of Health, around 30% of the total general population complains about sleep disruption and over 10% have been associated with symptoms of daytime functional impairment consistently, with the diagnosis of insomnia. Insomnia is a problem that can affect adults, elderly, and children alike.

The prevalence of insomnia increases with age due to poor sleep habits, pain and medical conditions, medications, and stress; it is also strongly related to family history.

Women are more likely to suffer from this illness than males as they experience unique hormonal changes like menstrual cycles, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause.

Treatment of insomnia depends on the severity of symptoms and underlying cause. Sleep medications are not the first line of treatment, but other methods such as Behavioural Therapy or Sleep Hygiene must be tried first.

It is crucial to sleep on time and to follow a schedule, exercise regularly, avoid caffeine intake, taking a nap during the day, and avoid stress. The intake of sleeping pills could be risky, especially for those with medical conditions, including liver or kidney disease.

Sleeping pills may help you fall asleep easier, or help stay asleep longer, or both. The risks and benefits of various prescriptions for sleeping pills can differ.

Side effects of taking sleeping pills: Depending on the type, sleeping pills with prescription might include the following side effects:

  • Frustration, fatigue, low energy, difficulty in concentrating, mood disturbances.
  • A severe headache.
  • Gastrointestinal problems, for instance, diarrhoea, and nausea.
  • Persistent drowsiness (due to consuming drugs that may help you stay asleep)
  • Allergic reaction to certain things.
  • Behavioural changes in sleep (Eg. driving or eating when you’re not fully awake)
  • Daytime memory and performance problems.

Safety considerations to keep in mind:

  • Sleeping pills may not be safe in case you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • It might increase the risk of falls during the night and injury in older adults due to dizziness.
  • It can cause low Blood Pressure, Kidney Disease, Arrhythmias (erratic heartbeat) or seizures.
  • Certain sleeping pills can cause drug abuse or addiction, so, it is important to consult a doctor before taking such medications.

Tips to follow before taking sleeping pills: If you really want to get a good sleep but have failed, sleeping pills are not the only option. Here is some advice on how to use them safely.

Get a medical evaluation: Before taking sleeping pills, one must visit the doctor for a thorough examination. Often your doctor may be able to find the cause for your Insomnia.

Do not take a sleeping pill until you’re going to bed: Always wait to take a sleeping pill until you have completed all your activities for the day, just before you plan to go off to sleep.

Take your sleeping pill when you can get a proper amount of sleep: Take a sleeping pill only when you know that you can get the proper amount of sleep that is at least 7-8 hours. Importantly, do not take pills, if you need a small nap (for example while travelling).

Watch out for the side effects: In case you feel drowsy or sleepy during the day or if you experience any other significant side effects, consult your doctor about changing your medicine or weaning off your pills, immediately.

Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol: Remember, do not mix alcohol and sleeping pills. Alcohol may increase the sedative effects of the pills and make you feel faint or confused. If combined, it may lead to decelerated breathing or unresponsiveness. Also, alcohol can actually cause insomnia.

Take sleeping pills strictly as prescribed by your doctor: Some sleeping pills are for short-term use only; don’t take a higher or prolong the dosage than prescribed. If the initial dose does not work or show any positive effect on your sleep, do not take more pills without consulting your doctor.

Quit carefully: Follow your doctor’s instructions some medications have to be stopped gradually. It very vital to be aware that you might feel some short-term rebound insomnia for a few days, post that you stop taking the pills.