5 Risks of long-term sleeping pill use and how to avoid them

Sleeping pills provide a glimpse of hope for people suffering from the agony of insomnia—possibly rescuing them from the hold of sleeplessness. 

But, several dangers and difficulties associated with the long-term usage of sleeping pills need our attention. 

The risks cannot be disregarded, from the sneaky emergence of tolerance and reliance to the grave effects on mental health.

Join us as we investigate safer options, sort through the tangled web of long-term sleeping pill usage and shine a light on the critical role that healthcare professionals play in pointing us toward a more wholesome and long-lasting route to sound sleep.

What are sleeping pills?

The purpose of sleeping pills, commonly called sleep aids or hypnotics, is to help those who have trouble falling or staying asleep

These pharmacological therapies specifically target brain receptors that control wakefulness and sleep to encourage and improve the sleep process.

Types of sleeping pills

Here are some types of sleeping pills that you should keep in mind:

  • Benzodiazepines

Among the earliest and most often prescribed sleeping aids are benzodiazepines like diazepam and lorazepam. 

They efficiently calm the central nervous system to promote sleep by acting as sedatives and tranquilizers.

  • Non-benzodiazepine hypnotic

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that suppresses brain activity and causes relaxation and sleepiness, is enhanced by on-benzodiazepine hypnotics like zolpidem and eszopiclone.

  • Melatonin receptor agonists

Ramelteon is an example of a melatonin receptor agonist targeting melatonin receptors. These medicines support regulating the sleep-wake cycle by imitating the effects of melatonin in nature.

What are the short-term benefits of sleeping pills?

Those suffering from insomnia or other sleep disorders may find rapid relief with sleeping pills. 

While not meant for long-term usage, the medications provide several short-term advantages that can help with sleep issues. 

Notably, these benefits differ based on the sleeping medication used and each person’s response. 

What are the short-term benefits of sleeping pills?
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The following are some common benefits of short-term use:

1. Improved sleep onset

The capacity of sleeping pills to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, sometimes referred to as sleep onset latency, is one of its main advantages. 

Insomnia frequently entails extended stretches of laying awake while fervently longing for sleep [1]. This process may be sped up with sleeping pills, allowing people to enter sleep more rapidly. 

These pills can help you fall asleep faster, increase your chances of a good night’s sleep, and provide comfort.

2. Increased sleep duration

Numerous sleep aids have the ability to increase the amount of time spent sleeping. Sleeping pills may assist those who have trouble falling or staying asleep or wake up often at night. 

These medications help people enjoy longer unbroken stretches of sleep by improving sleep continuity, making them feel more rested when they wake up.

3. Enhanced sleep quality

They can encourage the onset of slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which are deeper and more restorative sleep phases. These phases are necessary for both physical and mental renewal. 

Taking sleeping pills can enhance the quality of your sleep by facilitating deeper sleep phases, leaving you feeling more refreshed and energetic the following day.

4. Relieved temporary sleep disturbances

Sleeping pills can help control transitory sleep problems brought on by conditions like jet lag, shift work or stressful life events in addition to helping those with persistent insomnia. 

When sleep disturbances are anticipated or inevitable, they can assist in resetting the sleep-wake cycle and offer momentary comfort.

What are the dangers of long-term use of sleeping pills?

While sleeping pills might help with sleep problems temporarily, using them over an extended time comes with several risks and hazards. 

Our attention and caution are required since prolonged reliance on these drugs might result in various problems and negative consequences. 

To manage your sleep, it is essential to comprehend and recognize these potential risks. 

There are three major categories into which the dangers of long-term use of sleeping pills may be divided:

1. Tolerance and dependence

The development of tolerance is one of the major risks connected to the long-term usage of sleeping pills [2]. 

The body may grow less receptive to the medication’s effects with time, requiring bigger dosages to provide the same sleep-inducing effects. 

When people grow dependent on the drug to fall asleep, this tolerance can develop into dependency. 

Without the help of sleeping pills, dependence can make it harder and harder to fall asleep, maintaining a cycle of dependency and perhaps raising the danger of addiction.

2. Cognitive impairment

Memory issues and cognitive decline have been related to prolonged usage of sleeping pills. According to research, those who take these drugs often may have trouble focusing, paying attention and recalling recent events. 

A higher incidence of dementia and cognitive decline, particularly in elderly people, has also been linked to several sleeping pill kinds, notably benzodiazepines.

3. Physical health risks

When taken on a long-term basis, sleeping pills can be harmful to physical health. Certain sleeping aids may harm cardiovascular health by producing changes in blood pressure and heart rate. 

Long-term use of several drugs may also compromise respiratory function, causing or aggravating respiratory conditions, including sleep apnea.

4. Mental health implications

The relationship between sleeping medications and mental health is intricate. Long-term use of these drugs has been linked to a higher risk of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, developing or getting worse. 

While the exact processes behind this connection are not well known, they may include alterations in neurotransmitter levels and changes in the circadian rhythm of sleep and waking.

5. Withdrawal symptoms

After long-term use, stopping sleeping pills may cause withdrawal symptoms. 

From mild to severe, these symptoms might include rebound insomnia (worsening sleep problems), increased anxiety, irritability and restlessness

Certain sleeping drugs might cause withdrawal that is more severe and difficult to handle, especially those with a shorter half-life.

What are the safer alternatives for long-term sleep management?

Sleeping pills are not a viable long-term treatment, even temporarily alleviating sleep issues. 

Fortunately, less dangerous options and non-drug methods can support people in managing their sleep without needing medication. 

People can support long-term sleep health by addressing the root causes of sleep disruptions and implementing improved sleep habits. 

The following safer options are listed for long-term sleep management:

1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)

The CBT-I method is successful in treating persistent insomnia. It focuses on identifying and changing unfavorable views and behaviors that cause sleep problems. 

Techniques used in CBT-I for sleep problems include sleep hygiene instruction, stimulus control treatment, relaxation training, and sleep schedule management. 

Individuals can get CBT-I through individual treatment sessions or online programs, giving them access to powerful tools to enhance their sleep quality and form enduring sleep habits [3].

2. Sleep hygiene practices

Adopting sound sleeping habits can significantly influence how well you sleep. 

This entails adhering to a regular sleep schedule, establishing a relaxing sleeping environment, practicing relaxation methods before bed, avoiding stimulating activities and using gadgets just before bed and exercising frequently and getting plenty of natural light during the day. 

A calming nighttime ritual can help the body and mind prepare for sleep by signaling when to unwind.

3. Lifestyle changes

The way you live can improve with certain modifications. Regular daytime exercise can improve the quality of your sleep, but it’s vital to avoid strenuous activity right before bed. 

Meditation, deep breathing exercises or relaxing activities before bed can all be used to manage stress to help you fall asleep. 

Drinking less alcohol and caffeine, especially in the evening, can also help you sleep better.

4. Relaxation techniques

Including relaxation exercises in your bedtime regimen might help you unwind and prepare for bed. 

Progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery and mindfulness meditation are all techniques that can help you relax and feel less anxious, which will help you fall asleep more peacefully and deeply.

Relaxation techniques
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5. Environmental modifications

The quality of sleep may be greatly impacted by creating a sleep-friendly atmosphere. 

This entails creating a quiet, dark bedroom, reducing noise disturbances using earplugs or white noise generators and investing in a supportive mattress and pillows. 

The body’s normal sleep-wake cycle can also be regulated by employing blue light filters on electronic devices or restricting their use before bed.

How to reduce the risks of sleeping pill use?

Despite the risks connected with long-term use of sleeping pills, there are actions people may take to guarantee safer consumption. 

People can lessen the possible risks of sleeping medication usage by adopting safe habits and getting advice from healthcare specialists. 

The following are some methods for lowering the risks:

1. Responsible use and appropriate dosages

Use sleeping pills safely and according to prescription instructions. Follow the specified dosage and only take them as prescribed by a doctor. Do not take them over the recommended dose or longer than required [4]. 

Be upfront with your healthcare physician about your sleep issues and any worries or adverse effects you may have.

2. Regular consultation with healthcare professionals

When taking sleeping pills for a prolonged period, contact your doctor frequently. 

Regular examinations can aid in assessing potential hazards or side effects, monitoring the medication’s efficacy and modifying the treatment plan as necessary. 

3. Education and informed decision-making

Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of using sleeping drugs. Recognize the precise kind of medication you are taking, its purpose, any potential adverse effects and any possible interactions it may have with other drugs or substances. 

By comparing the advantages and disadvantages of sleeping pills and considering other possibilities, make an educated choice.

Conclusion

It is impossible to ignore the dangers of prolonged usage of sleeping pills. Potential concerns include tolerance, dependency, cognitive decline, physical health problems and mental health effects. 

But there are safer options available. Sustainable approaches to sleep management include relaxation methods, lifestyle adjustments and cognitive-behavioral treatment for insomnia (CBT-I). 

People may emphasize their long-term well-being by lowering the risks of sleeping pill usage via responsible behaviors, routine contact with healthcare specialists, and educated decision-making. 

Investigating comprehensive strategies that take care of the underlying causes of sleep problems and encourage better sleeping habits is essential. 

Always remember that the path to a night of more restful sleep and improved sleep health is paved with educated decisions and open discussion with healthcare professionals.

FAQs

What is the safest sleep aid to take?

CBT-I, or cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia, is considered one of the best and safest methods for treating insomnia without resorting to drugs. Using behavioral and cognitive approaches, it focuses on treating the underlying causes of insomnia and improving sleeping patterns.

Can I take melatonin every night?

Melatonin can be taken every night for up to a few weeks and is often considered safe for short-term usage. However, speaking with a medical expert before taking melatonin frequently is advised, particularly for long periods.

What causes lack of sleep?

Stress, anxiety, certain medical conditions (such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless leg syndrome), medications, caffeine or alcohol use, irregular sleep schedules, and environmental factors (such as noise or an uncomfortable sleeping environment) are just a few of the causes of lack of sleep.

[1] https://www.health.com/condition/sleep/sleeping-pills
[2] https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/understanding-the-side-effects-of-sleeping-pills
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6796223/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK361010/

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