Be safe with sleep medication

Be safe with sleep medication

In an effort to catch more z’s, the National Sleep Foundation estimates about 25 percent of Americans turn to a variety of medications, including prescription hypnotics, over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies. The NSF says consumers spend about $14 billion annually for treatment of insomnia. Indirect costs from loss of work time and damage from accidents related to sleeplessness is believed to be about $35 million.

Doctors can prescribe popular brand-name medications like Ambien, Lunesta, Rozerem, Sonata and Silenor. Some also prescribe benzodiazepines, which have been on the market since the 1960s but tend to stay in the system longer than newer medications.

The FDA has issued warnings for prescription sleep drugs that can cause rare allergic reactions and complex sleep-related behaviors, including “sleep driving.”

Over-the-counter medications, usually antihistamines, tend to have limited effectiveness over the long term and can contribute to a high incidence of “hangover” symptoms. The NSF recommends that OTC sleep medications be used only as you would aspirin for a headache for a limited time.

Herbal and nutritional supplements, such as melatonin, valerian and hops pillows have not undergone the rigorous testing required by the government that hypnotic prescription medicines, also known as sopoforics, and OTC medications face. For that reason, users should be especially careful.

The NSF recommends the following for those who treat insomnia with medications:

  • Begin with the lowest possible effective dose. 
  • Use them only on a short-term basis, if used nightly.
  • If used long term, use them intermittently.
  • Use them only in combination with good sleep practices and/or behavioral approaches.

Neither hypnotics nor OTC sleep aids should be used by individuals who also consume alcohol or take other drugs with sedating effects. Older individuals also should be cautious about these drugs because of their slower metabolisms, the NSF recommends.

Though a night or two of sleeplessness is not uncommon, you should seek diagnosis and treatment by a sleep professional if it lasts much longer. As always, seek a second opinion before agreeing to treatment for any condition.


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