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Do sleeping pills really help you sleep?

Do Sleeping Pills Really Help You Sleep?

More than six million adults in the United States take a sleeping pill at least once a month before they go to bed at night, and that number is increasing. But do we even know what they're doing to our brains?

Hey there friends, Trace here for DNews. Sleeping pills, or more accurately, sleep aids, are growing in popularity -- but are they helping us? A study from the CDC called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found sleep aid use increased in the first decade of this century significantly, with more women than men using sleep aids.

Sleep aids come in a variety of types, but most common are "sedative hypnotics" which means it's a pill which mimics being knocked out for a surgical procedure. Benzodiazepines (benzo-die-azapeens) and Non-benzodiazepines are in this type, and they're sometimes called Z-drugs because they all have Z's in them. Other than these, some people are prescribed antidepressants, or powerful antihistamines.

Some of these aids succeed in knocking you out by depressing the central nervous system function. Others like the antihistamines increase drowsiness. There's a newer drug class of "Orexin receptor antagonists" which block a brain chemical which keeps you aware and wakeful. Each of these drugs are great for knocking a human out, but being unconscious isn't SLEEP.

Professor Matthew Walker from University of California Berkeley told Probably Science if you want to "lose consciousness" these drugs are fine, but it's not natural sleep; it's simulated sleep. Drugs alter the "sleep structure" or natural patterns and rhythms of sleep. When you're sleeping, your brain is active, organizing your day, making dreams and cleaning itself. Most of the newest drugs will allow the brain into REM sleep, but they DON'T allow the brain to go through the full natural sleep process, which means the brain doesn't have a chance to clean up and process memories from the day before, cementing them for future reference

According to the National Institutes of Health, you should never take sleep aids more than three times in a week, and make sure you address any other mental health issues like anxiety or depression before taking a sleep aid. The problem is many sleep aids are habit forming, and accidental overdoses are possible, though they're usually not lethal.

A popular alternative to drugs is melatonin; a natural hormone which resets your circadian clock. Everyone produces melatonin from the pineal gland in the middle of the brain. When the sun drops, melatonin production ramps up for 12 hours, helping you feel less aware and awake. That usually starts around 9 PM. The problem with melatonin pills is they're not regulated by the FDA, so the amount of the hormone in the pill isn't standardized. If you take too much, your body may get used to higher levels than you naturally produce. This isn't a drug to take willy-nilly, because it won't MAKE you sleep, it only HELPS you sleep. Scientific tests done with placebos and melatonin found no difference between the two.

For people who don't like pills, psychological or behavioral training can help encourage sleep, and has the added benefit of encouraging NATURAL sleep rather than sedation. The training starts with things as simple as cutting caffeine six hours before bed, and turning off screens three hours before, as well as using redshift software like Flux to simulate evening sun on your computer screen.

Join the discussion

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Denileriverafter March 23 2014 at 7:39 AM

I take a handfull of walnuts an hour or two before bed, and pills that contain valarien and camemille. I also have room-darkening curtains, because I work graveyard and sleep all day. And, if all else fails, I recite my multiplication tables to bore myself to sleep, and keep in practice for multiplying. lol

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Pantino4 Denileriverafter March 23 2014 at 7:58 AM

dark room, add rain, nighty, nighty.

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KOD March 23 2014 at 11:57 AM

My 2 cents worth and I hope it helps someone who may be trying to sort out his or her sleep situation. This is not a one size fits all discussion. Some can't fall asleep and some can't stay asleep with a million reasons as to why. Up until a few years ago I wouldn't even entertain the idea of a sleeping pill even though I have a severe sleep deprivation problem. I tried everything you can imagine to get enough sleep to function during the day. In my case, once I fall asleep I can stay asleep but I have a very difficult time falling asleep. I envy those that can just go to sleep when it’s bedtime. Now that I know what's happening I have taken steps to get enough sleep and one of them is taking a sleeping pill only when it’s necessary. I tried a couple of pills and chose the sleeping pill called Sonata that stays in your body the shortest time. It puts me to sleep but doesn't leave me sleepy the next day. My personal criteria to taking a sleeping pill, 1: try all the other methods first, 2: it must be at least midnight (with at least six available hours to sleep), 3: I know I'm not going to sleep and I must be functional tomorrow (something important enough is going to occur during the next day). I end up taking on average, 6-8 pills a month but it's not a steady average because my life is not a steady average. I can go a week or two without anything but then need more help for a couple of days in a row. Good luck to you if you need to figure this out and one other thing I did to help me was stop caring what other people thought. Take care of yourself because no one else will. I bet there are at least a few people counting on you. My next hurdle is the snoring problem my wife seems to believe exists.

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Fran KOD March 23 2014 at 12:06 PM

you must be a mean person who does bad things if you were not this type of person you would be able to fall asleap. you probably think of silly things like how mad your neighbor makes you because they dont live the same life as you if you learned to worry about yourself insted of what others do you would be able to sleep.

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Connie March 23 2014 at 7:20 PM

I wish I could agree with this. However for me taking a sleeping aid or an actual drug to sleep is my only alternative. Without either I will only get 3 hours sleep and sometimes 2 hours. I cannot function with so little sleep, so for me drugs are the alternative. I am 75 years old and for me it is quality of life, and that means at least 7 hours of sleep.

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chucks6996 March 23 2014 at 11:02 AM

sitting in front of computer puts me to sleep

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1 reply
Sandra chucks6996 March 23 2014 at 4:57 PM

I hear ya chuck.. lol

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wildlifeartistkc March 23 2014 at 9:12 PM

I am 58 and so far I sleep pretty good unlike my Mom who always took something... but i think all the smoking she did had was a problem too and she took over the counter sleep aids every night. I felt bad for her and the smoking pretty much took her life as it caused her heart to go bad then her whole circulatory system. I feel if u cannot sleep then find what helps u to sleep as if we dont sleep well we cannot function,,,, my daughter had anxiety bad from abuse from her father and her ex husband so many a night i see her bedroom light on... She doesnt take any meds anymore and healthwise she is not well. The government sticks their nose in where it doesnt belong!

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Bill Wendt wildlifeartistkc March 23 2014 at 11:39 PM

Since being discharged from the Marine Corps in 1974 I could not sleep well until my doctor prescribed Ambien for me. After the first dosing night I called the Doc to let him know that I had the best sleep that I had in 30 Yrs. And it was deep,restful sleep with dreams.The best part is that there is no "hang over" from the med. I awake refreshed and ready to go all day. Thank you to whoever owns the credit for this miracle drug for my and many like my conditionsI cannot begin to express the positive and wonderful ways my life has been affected positively. Perhaps not all will have same experiences that I do but it has negated all the negative experiences that I went through in the Corp during Vietnam. My tourture is over with the wonder drug,Ambien.

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Rae Turner wildlifeartistkc March 24 2014 at 1:15 AM

I am a little confused , what does the government have to do with anything you have said??

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Kit and Dan March 23 2014 at 11:39 AM

All I can say is than God for ZZQuill. I have a hard time settling down at night because my mind just keeps going. I used to take Tylenol PM liquid, then it was discontinued. Don't like taking pills because they're too strong for me. I only take about 1/2 a dose of the liquid to simply settle my brain to relax and sleep. I take it only to make sure I get my rest for work the next day. I don't take anything when not working, except for the occasional some wine or SoCo and 7-up one to relax and chill .

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nvisiblegypsys March 23 2014 at 7:42 PM

so now they're setting it up to give the Justice Dept./DEA oversight/control over sleep meds just like the recent pain meds farce.
say bye to any decent sleep!

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bradenkll March 23 2014 at 9:04 PM

From my perspective, I'd prefer to take sleeping pills(in my case an anxiety pill that makes me drowsy) and feel like I got a good sleep then none at all. However, dealing with severe depression/anxiety, I now have insomnia. If I don't get sleep, I turn into someone you don't want to meet.

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fred March 23 2014 at 8:17 PM

Good roll in the hay with the one you love/get turned on by is way better than anything big pharma can package and sell.....:)

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Valerie fred March 23 2014 at 11:14 PM


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elfs88law March 23 2014 at 12:35 PM

This guy is discussing a serious subject & is dressed as if he is a gas jockey or a college drop-out. Lose the hoodie and the 3-day growth where the beard is absent.

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