Millions of Americans rely on sleeping pills to fall asleep, but doctors say they are a short-term solution

There are many reasons why people have trouble falling asleep. Stress often keeps people awake at night. But sometimes the culprit is a condition like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleeping pills are often prescribed to help people who constantly have trouble falling asleep, but they are also known to cause potentially dangerous side effects.

A newly published survey of more than 30,000 adults conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2020 found that 8.4% of adults took sleep medication at least most nights, and that women were more likely to use it than men . The use of sleeping pills generally increased with age. Nearly 12% of seniors reported using a sleeping aid at least most nights.

The higher rate of seniors taking sleeping pills is of particular concern, experts say.

“Sleeping pills have many side effects, and older adults are more likely to experience the negative effects of these drugs,” Dr. Nishi Bhopal, a psychiatrist and sleep medicine doctor who was not involved in the study, told CNN. “This includes things like confusion, the risk of falling, breaking bones and[they]are even at a higher risk of cognitive problems like dementia. And so to see the highest rate of use[is]in this population is concerning .”

Yet research published last year showed that the use of sleeping pills fell by 31% between 2013 and 2018. That decline followed decades of increased use. Prescription of benzodiazepines increased by 69% between 1993 and 2010; those for zolpidem, sold under the Ambien brand, were up 140%.

“There are several possible reasons for this decline; for example, there is greater awareness of the potential dangers associated with taking these drugs,” said lead researcher Christopher Kaufmann, a professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Florida. told U.S. News & World Report. “Also, there’s been a recent increase in behavioral treatments for improving sleep that don’t have the potential adverse effects that some medications can have.”

The Sleep Foundation lists many possible serious side effects of common sleeping pills. They include a burning or tingling sensation in the extremities, changes in appetite, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, daytime sleepiness, dry mouth, gas, headache, heartburn, and nausea. Some people also experience mental impairment, concentration and memory problems, stomach pain, decreased balance, weakness, uncontrollable shaking and frequent weird dreams or nightmares the next day.

Eighty percent of people who take prescription sleeping pills such as benzodiazepine hypnotics and zopiclone experience at least one of the following side effects the next day: drowsiness, mental disturbances, and difficulty with balance or motor coordination. These side effects, known as “hangover effects,” can affect a person’s ability to drive, work performance, and social relationships.

Long-term use of these drugs only exacerbates side effects, experts say. People taking sleep medications may also be at risk for parasomnia — unusual behaviors during sleep, such as sleepwalking, bedwetting, allergic reactions, and pill addiction.

Most sleeping pills are for short-term use only. As the body becomes dependent on sleep medication, larger and larger doses are required to achieve the same effect. People who mix the pills with alcohol, also a sedative, increase their risk of death because the combination causes breathing to slow down.

When people are ready to stop taking sleeping pills, they are advised to follow the instructions on the label or those given by their healthcare provider or pharmacist. Some pills need to be tapered off gradually. Short-term rebound insomnia is common in the first few days after stopping the pills.

Before people consider taking sleeping pills, they are advised to get examined by a doctor to make sure they don’t have an underlying medical condition, such as a sleep disorder, experts say. Any medical condition must be addressed and behavioral changes made for long-lasting improvements in sleep health.

The Sleep Foundation and Cleveland Clinic offer several alternatives to help improve sleep:

• Get at least 7 hours of sleep per night
• Manage stress levels
• Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption
• Exercise regularly
• Relax for at least 30 minutes before going to bed
• Keep the bedroom temperature between 60-67 degrees

Millions of Americans rely on sleeping pills to fall asleep, but doctors say they are a short-term solution

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