According to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults doesn’t get enough sleep at night. Long-term sleep deprivation can cause a myriad of issues from increased risk of heart disease and stroke to unwanted weight gain, diabetes, and even mood disorders like depression and anxiety. It also makes it difficult to concentrate and focus during the day, leading to mood swings, irritability, and cognitive issues. If you’re fed up with your sleep issues, chances are, you’re willing to try anything to achieve a quality night’s sleep. CBT-i helps insomnia sufferers change their thoughts and behaviors about sleep and adopt a healthier way of life.
Therapy isn’t the only answer to your sleep troubles. Another possible solution is to take either over the counter or prescription sleep aids. These can also be combined with some form of CBT or other therapy. You can also try a supplement like melatonin or medications designed to treat other ailments like seizures but that are also proven effective at easing insomnia symptoms. Before taking any medication or supplement it’s important to weigh the pros and cons and consider your current health and potential side effects.
If you’re considering medication to treat your sleep troubles, keep reading. Here, we’ll examine the benefits of potential negatives of using sleep aids so you can make an informed decision about your treatment plan.
The pros of using sleep aids
According to a recent study, 8.5 million adults have used prescription sleep aids in the last month. When used correctly, these medications can offer much-needed relief from sleepless nights that flow into exhausted days, creating an unhealthy cycle of sleep deprivation and stress.
Here are a few more reasons to consider sleep aids to help ease your insomnia symptoms.
- Beneficial as a last resort. If you’ve tried everything and still can’t get enough sleep at night or your lack of sleep is causing extreme distress in your daily life, sleeping aids can act as a viable alternative. Although they’re designed for short-term use, most medications require users to slowly wean off of them to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Some sleeping pills take several weeks for you to experience the full benefits.
- Targeted treatment. With so many sleep aids to choose from, you can find the perfect fit for your specific sleep disorder or issue. Whether your insomnia is triggered by anxiety or stress, shift work, or another underlying medical condition, there’s a sleeping pill that can help. Certain medications like Gabapentin, which is used to treat seizures, also offer benefits for sleep. By improving slow-wave sleep, this medication can help you achieve deeper sleep and increase your overall sleep time. A healthcare professional can advise you on whether or not it’s safe to take these types of medications or if a supplement or over-the-counter pill would be more suitable.
The cons of using sleep aids
Anytime you add a new medication to your routine, regardless of the type, you need to consider the potential side effects. Here are a few cons to consider before turning to sleep aids for relief.
- Developing a tolerance. This is the most common downside to using sleeping aids. Even if they work at first to ease your insomnia symptoms and help you achieve a good night’s sleep, chances are, your body will build up a tolerance to them. This means that you’ll require a larger dose, more often to achieve the same results. Over time, you may even need to switch medications and use something stronger. You’re also at greater risk of experiencing rebound insomnia, which means worse sleeping conditions than before you started taking the drug. Certain sleep aids including Ambien, Lunesta, Valium, and Xanax aren’t approved for long-term use or for treating chronic insomnia. All of these medications and other benzodiazepines carry a high risk of addiction. Once you become addicted or dependent on sleeping pills, it can become very difficult to wean yourself off them and achieve quality sleep on your own.
- Potential side effects. It should come as no surprise that certain sleep medications and pills carry a number of potential side effects. It’s important to do your research before choosing a sleep aid to ensure that the side effects aren’t worse than your current condition. Over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, constipation, and dry mouth. Prescription sleep aids carry these same risks with additional, unpleasant side effects including nausea, excessive daytime drowsiness, and memory loss. In severe cases, people experience complex sleep behaviors which involve performing normal daily activities while not fully awake. This can lead to very dangerous and serious consequences. While not all patients experience these side effects and not all medications carry the same risks, you’re still ingesting a medication that could negatively interfere with your ability to function.
- Interacting with other medications. The other main risk associated with using sleeping aids is that they may interfere with your current medications. If you have a diagnosed condition that requires medication, for example, high blood pressure or cholesterol or diabetes, certain sleeping pills may negatively interfere with these drugs or stop them from working properly. You should never mix sleep aids with alcohol, antidepressants, or antihistamines. Combining any two substances that depress the central nervous system can cause your breathing to slow and may result in death.
Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle that Promotes Quality Sleep
Numerous things can trigger insomnia from extreme stress and anxiety to depression, major life changes, and certain medical conditions. But in some rare cases, there’s no known cause for your sleep troubles. When this happens, or you’ve tried everything else, you may consider using sleeping pills or aids to finally fall and stay asleep. This is a viable option for those suffering from chronic insomnia that’s negatively interfering with daily life. But before you grab an over-the-counter sleep aid or request a prescription, consider these pros and cons and discuss the side-effects and potential risks with a trusted healthcare professional.
In the meantime, consider making minor lifestyle changes that promote quality sleep like adopting a healthy nighttime routine, limiting screen time before bed, and setting a consistent sleep schedule.
April Sutphen is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from Florida. She has her MFA in creative nonfiction and over 15 years of writing experience.