The ills of sleeping pills

Insomnia or sleep disturbance is the most common of all sleep disorders. Insomnia is the difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person can sleep in.

According to a report by the National Institutes of Health, it is estimated that around 30 per cent of the total general population complains about sleep disruption and over 10 per cent have been associated with symptoms of daytime functional impairment consistently, with the diagnosis of insomnia.

Treatment of insomnia depends on the severity of symptoms and underlying cause. Sleep medications are not the first line of treatment, and various other methods such as behavioural therapy or sleep hygiene must be tried first. Sleeping pills have a potential to make a person dependent on them when he/she takes those pills for a prolonged period.

According to Dr Mohammed Shakeel of Fortis Hospital, Kalyan, the risks and benefits of various prescriptions for sleeping pills can differ.

The downside

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

nFatigue, low energy, difficulty in concentrating, mood disturbances. 

nSevere headache.

nGastrointestinal problems (e.g. diarrhoea and nausea). 

nPersistent drowsiness (due to consuming drugs that may help you stay asleep).

nAllergic reaction to certain things. 

nBehavioural changes in sleep (e.g. driving or eating when you’re not fully awake). 

nDaytime memory and performance problems. 

Safety considerations to keep in mind 

nSleeping pills may not be safe in case you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

nIt might increase the risk of falls during the night time and injury in older adults due to dizziness. 

nIt can cause low-blood pressure, kidney disease, arrhythmias (erratic heartbeat) or seizures. 

nCertain sleeping pills can cause drug abuse or drug addiction, so it is important to consult a doctor before taking medications. 

Follow these tips before taking medication

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

Get medical evaluation: Before taking sleeping pills, one must visit the doctor for a thorough examination. Often, your doctor may be able to find the underlying 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 the tablet when you can get a proper amount of sleep: Take a sleeping pill only when you know you can get a proper amount of sleep that is at least 7 to 8 hours. Do not take pills if you need a small nap (for example while travelling). 

Watch out: 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: Never mix alcohol and sleeping pills. Alcohol might increase the sedative effects of the pills, making you feel faint or confused. If combined, it can lead to decelerated breathing or unresponsiveness. Also, alcohol can actually cause insomnia. 

Take medication strictly as prescribed by your doctor: Some sleeping pills are for short-term use only; don’t take a higher or prolong dose 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 the dosage instructions given by your doctor, some medications are stopped gradually. It is vital to be aware that you might have some short-term rebound insomnia for a few days, after that you stop taking the sleeping pills.

Dr Sandeep Gore of Fortis Hospital, Mulund, Mumbai, says taking sleeping pills should be the last resort for any person who is suffering from a sleep disorder. “Lifestyle modifications must be tried before prescribing the sleeping pills. Regular aerobic exercises for 45 minutes, practicing meditation and yoga, limiting intake of tea and coffee, fixing the daily sleep times, avoiding stressful situations or circumstances can be helpful for most patients to overcome sleep disorders safely. In short, lifestyle modifications should always take precedence over medication in managing the sleep disorders,” adds Gore. — ANI