Sleep is incredibly important for our health. If you have a good nights sleep, you wake up feeling refreshed, in a better mode and more focused. On the other hand, if you get a bad nights sleep, especially on a consistent basis, you won’t just feel tetchy. It will bring on a whole raft of problems, including high blood pressure, and increased chances of a heart attack and stroke. And to make it worse, people often seek sleeping pills as a cure.
And certainly, in Britain and the Western World, society has programmed into all of us that getting by on less sleep is okay. For instance, your high-demanding job requires you to start at 7 am instead of 9 am. And apparently, that’s “okay”. This person won’t question such commitments and will get on with his/her day in quite an admirable way. However, it comes with very little consideration for the long-term health effects of a poor nights sleep.
And they find that when it is eventually time to hit the sack, they can’t sleep well. A vicious cycle many will try to break with medication. We will look into the problems from taking sleeping medication, and most importantly, provide you with safer, natural solutions.
The Western Worlds sleep deprivation
It appears that a frantic lifestyle affects our sleep, unsurprisingly. Sometimes you would think that running around all day would cause you to collapse in a heap at nighttime. However, stress-related issues come into play and half of Britons suffer from this. So there seems to be a variety of causes for sleep problems:
So it’s no wonder that people seek help, but it should be professional help. Worryingly, more Britons opt for over-the-counter medicine (14%) than consulting their GP (10%). And given that the two most common causes of sleep problems are stress and snoring, we can combat them without the use of medication in most instances!
What sort of medication is out there?
There is a lot. But let’s look at some of the most common medicines:
- Melatonin: it’s a sleep hormone naturally secreted by the pineal gland that tells us when it’s time to go to bed. Unsurprisingly, our body secretes it at nighttime to signal to our body clock (also known as circadian rhythm) when it’s time to go to bed. And it can be produced synthetically to help with sleep problems. But evidence shows when you stop taking the medication, your sleep-related issues return
- Benzodiazepine-based: a class of prescription medication used to treat sleep disorders, very commonly insomnia. But again, long-term use is discouraged, and may only help with short-term insomnia. There is also a greater chance of dependency with this class
- Tricyclic antidepressants: they are typically used as antidepressants, but they do provide sedating properties. And since depression is a major cause of sleep deprivation, it makes sense that this is a common prescription
- Sleep-wake cycle modifiers: this class is quite a new blend, with the only drug in the classification being Rozerem at the time of writing
Side effects and limitations of sleeping pills
Concerning melatonin, long-term use (> 2 years) can have implications like the increased likelihood of depression, high blood pressure and may increase blood sugar levels; be particularly careful if you have diabetes. Furthermore, melatonin is typically used for short-term sleeping difficulties. For example, 0.3-5 mg of daily melatonin for up to 9 months (please don’t take this as a recommended dosage from myself – I’m not a doctor!).
Yes, sleeping pills can help people with persistent sleeping issues, but they definitely can have long-term consequences from addiction. The problem here is, sleep medication is often a quick fix to underlying long-term sleep conditions.
Although sleeping pills do work for helping you fall asleep, as well as staying asleep, they do present many risks, such as:
- Allergic reaction
- Parasomnia – a highly disruptive sleep disorder that can include anything from nightmares to sleepwalking
- Memory loss
Quite an extensive list, right? So you have to account for the safety aspect. Meaning, prescription sleeping pills may interfere with your current medication, such as antidepressants. Also, limitations will occur depending on your health, meaning if you have a heart condition, kidney disease, low blood pressure or a history of seizures, your options may be limited. Your doctor shall conduct a thorough risk analysis for you.
And you may be limited if you are elderly or pregnant. With this in mind, I’d recommend you read the Mayo Clinic’s excellent article on the do’s and don’ts for sleeping pills. It includes information like only taking a sleeping pill when you know you are about to get a good nights sleep (and not needing to pick your child up from the airport at 3 am), and coming off the prescription pill course in a gradual manner. To further emphasize this, Dr. Sanjay Gupta says it well in this short video clip:
A natural solution
Rather than looking to sleeping pills for a ‘quick fix’, it’s very important to look at the behavioral changes that need to take place. Prime examples:
- Skip the daytime naps
- Avoid food for at least a couple hours before bedtime and caffeine for 7 hours before bed. For example, if you go to bed at 10 pm, your last cup of coffee should be at 3 pm. Check out the scientific evidence here
- Try to limit stress. A really comprehensive guide can be found at the Mental Health Foundation
- Have a consistent exercise plan – people whose exercise regularly sleep better. It’s been proven to reduce stress
- Invest in a new bed: this is easier said than done if you live in rented accommodation, but The Sleep Council recommends replacing your bed once every 7 years
- Quit checking your emails late at night: electrical devices emit bright light that can disrupt our circadian rhythm
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine: so you go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time: this is incredibly effective
- Breathing exercises like meditation and yoga help, as studies have shown
As a word of caution, if your doctor prescribes you sleeping pills almost instantly, it should ring some alarm bells in your head. The reason being it’s a complicated matter prescribing sleep medication. Your doctor has to consider:
- Becoming familiarized with your current sleep patterns
- Look to provide natural treatment options first
- Identify if there are any underlying health causes, such as allergies and asthma. They may conduct various health tests, even a sleep test to identify if there is a sleep disorder
- Put you on a trial period for sleeping pills, and tell you about potential side effects first
The nasal dilator
At Honey Gusto, we will soon be stocking nasal dilators that could help with anti-snoring. This silicone-based device is inserted into the nasal passages to effectively widen them and allow more air to pass through. Why is this effective? Because nasal breathing is far healthier. You will no longer need to breathe through your mouth, which increases the chances of snoring.
Because we can classify sleep deprivation into two categories: medical conditions and sleep disorders. The nasal dilator will help with the latter but may mitigate certain medical conditions related to allergies. For example, if you have a dust allergy, your nose may become blocked, and the nasal dilator can help keep the nasal cavity open. After all, behind stress, snoring is the second biggest cause of sleep deprivation. Men are twice as likely to snore, which is why 31% of women are affected compared to 19% of men. The nasal dilator can help solve this and improve the quality of sleep for both in the relationship.
But it’s always important to take a holistic approach. A little silicone-based dilator could solve all your sleep problems, but it may not. Some people find it very effective to bundle the item with an anti-snoring mouthpiece (working on developing that one). As well as implementing the advice given here, you will hopefully be able to ditch the sleeping pills for good! Because at the end of the day, all sleeping pills have risks.
It’s unrealistic to assume that a nasal dilator would be that magic device to solve everything. But with the correct behavioral changes in place, it could be all the ‘medication’ you need. So take this step to improve your sleep: you deserve it. A natural remedy coupled with a nasal dilator (perhaps also the mouthpiece) can be a great formulation to cure your poor sleeping state.
References & further resources
Doctors’ Circle (2016). What are side effects for overdose of sleeping pills & how to manage it? – Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaPFSdGuRCE [Accessed 1 Apr. 2019].
DrugRehab.com (2018). Are Sleeping Pills Safe?. [online] drugrehab.com. Available at: https://www.drugrehab.com/addiction/are-sleeping-pills-safe/ [Accessed 1 Apr. 2019].
Hiddleston, N. (2014). Various forms of sleep disorder. [image] Available at: https://www.saatvamattress.com/blog/interesting-sleep-facts-infographic/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2019].
Mayo Clinic (2018). Prescription sleeping pills: What’s right for you?. [online] mayoclinic.org. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/in-depth/sleeping-pills/art-20043959 [Accessed 1 Apr. 2019].
Peters, B. (2018). Insomnia Treatment Option: Benzodiazepine Medications. [online] verywellhealth.com. Available at: https://www.verywellhealth.com/using-benzodiazepine-to-treat-insomnia-3015197 [Accessed 1 Apr. 2019].
The Sleep Council (2013). The Great British Bedtime Report. 1st ed. [ebook] Skipton: The Sleep Council, pp.1-17. Available at: https://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/The-Great-British-Bedtime-Report.pdf [Accessed 1 Apr. 2019].
WebMD (n.d.). Melatonin: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning. [online] webmd.com. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-940/melatonin [Accessed 1 Apr. 2019].
WebMD (n.d.). Sleeping Pills: The Pros and Cons. [online] webmd.com. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/sleeping-pills-pros-cons [Accessed 2 Apr. 2019].