Waking Up to the Serious Risks of Sleep Aids

Risks of Sleep Aids

Waking Up to the Serious Risks of Sleep Aids

In April 2019, Federal Health regulators released an announcement requiring sleep aid manufacturers to add strong warnings on products such as Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata.  These boxed warnings are the most prominent method of warning the public about the severe risks of sleep aids.

For a perspective on the massive scale of sleep aid abuse in the US today, take a look at these numbers:

  • Prescriptions for sleeping pills grew to more than 20 million in 2015, up from 5.3 million ten years ago.
  • According to SAMHSA, more than 250,00 people abused sedatives in 2017.
  • ER visits attributed to sleep aid misuse increased from 6,111 in 2005 to more than 19,000 in 2010, according to DAWN (Drug Abuse Warning Network).
  • About one-half of sedative-related ER visits involved other drugs such as narcotic analgesics or other sleep or anti-anxiety meds.
  • About one in eight people use these drugs.
  • More than one-third of senior citizens report taking sleep aids.
  • About 68% of ER patients admitted for sleep aid related issues were women.  For this reason, the FDA lowered the dosage for women from 10 mg to 5 mg per day.

Next-day drowsiness is one of the more pronounced side-effects of zolpidem (Ambien), especially the extended-release formula, Ambien CR.  However, many other unexpected side effects can be experienced even when using these drugs as prescribed.

Some Side Effects of Sleep Aids You Might Not Expect

A person can find many options for getting a good night‘s sleep without exposing themselves to the risks of sleep aids.  But, as Americans, we look for the quick-fix options that come in pill form. Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix for the side effects of these products.

Zolpidem can be addictive because the sedating effects are pleasurable, and many people abuse the drug for the high it can provide.  One unexpected side effect of sleep aids is that some people feel euphoric rather than sleepy when using the drug, and this can quickly cause addiction.

Other side effects of sleep aids such as Ambien can include engaging in activities while not fully conscious, such as:

  • Eating, cooking
  • Having conversations
  • Sex
  • Driving
  • Sleepwalking

Most of these activities seem harmless, but some of them can have serious repercussions such as injury or death.

Other consequences of sleep aid abuse can include dependence, addiction, withdrawal, and risk of overdose, especially when used in combination with other substances.  Anyone who has a history of addiction or drug abuse should avoid taking sleep aids.

Symptoms of Sleep Aid Overdose

Although sleep aid overdose is more likely to occur when the drug is combined with other substances such as alcohol, many people have overdosed on the drug itself. Overdose often happens when the individual forgets that they have taken a dose and ingests more. In other cases of overdose, the person took more of the substance to achieve a more intense high.

If you know someone who is using or abusing sleep aids, these are some of the overdose symptoms you should watch for:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Dangerously slowed breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Coma

Self-Test for Determining Sleep Aid Abuse or Addiction

Sleep aid dependence can lead to addiction when a person becomes more and more preoccupied with acquiring and using this drug.

Here are some of the questions to ask if you are unsure about sleep aid addiction:

  • Do you take the sleep aid during the day?
  • Have you taken higher doses than prescribed?
  • Do you “doctor-shop” to feed the habit?
  • When you fear that the drug will be unavailable, do you panic?
  • Have you tried to quit, but couldn’t do it?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you should seek professional help right away.

Another sign of sleep aid addiction is evident when withdrawal symptoms appear if the drug is withheld:

  • Dizziness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Tremors
  • Panic attacks

Most people reach for another dose of sleep aid when the above symptoms appear, and the cycle of abuse and addiction continues until devastating consequences occur.

Suggestions for Getting Sleep Without the Risks of Sleep Aids

If you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, these are some suggestions to try so you can avoid the risks of sleep aids:

  1. Eat foods for dinner that are not spicy.
  2. Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine at least 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
  3. Get up if you’re not able to fall asleep.  Try reading or listening to soft music.
  4. Try to get up at the same time every morning.
  5. Avoid napping during the day.
  6. Don’t exercise right before going to bed.
  7. Don’t watch television, eat, or read in bed.
  8. Keep the bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.

Overall, the risks of sleep aids can outweigh the benefits.  If you would like more information, please contact us at our toll-free number today.


samhsa.govKey Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the US

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