According to a report recently issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six adults with a diagnosed sleep disorder and one in eight adults who simply have trouble sleeping use prescription sleep aids.
This is just one of the key findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2005–2010, which was conducted to determine how many US adults use prescription sleep aids. The survey also found that use is highest among adult women, and that usage also increased with age (with the highest percentages in the 50+ age brackets) and level of education (greater than a high school degree).
Folks, these findings are troubling, to say the least. All sleeping pills—both benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Restoril, and Halcion) and the newer non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics (Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta)—have serious side effects. They include daytime drowsiness, cognitive impairment, balance problems, a strong potential for addiction, and according to a 2012 study, increased risk of death.
If you are currently taking a prescription sleep medication, I strongly encourage you to talk to your doctor about discontinuing it. There are many safe, natural sleep aids available. Here are a few you can try to see what works best for you.
- Supplemental Melatonin. The best-studied natural sleep aid is melatonin, the “hormone of sleep.” Melatonin’s production in the pineal gland is cued by light—levels rise in the evening as darkness falls and ebb toward the morning. Today’s plugged-in, lit-up world blurs the signals for melatonin synthesis, resulting in disturbances in our sleep-wake cycles. By restoring natural levels, supplemental melatonin promotes sound, restful sleep. The suggested dose is 1–6 mg (average 3 mg) 30–60 minutes before bedtime.
- Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis). This calming herb helps curb the anxiety that leaves many people tossing and turning. One recent study involved a group for whom sleeplessness is a common complaint: postmenopausal women. After four weeks of taking either a concentrated valerian extract or a placebo, 30 percent of the women in the valerian group had improvements in quality of sleep compared to just four percent in the placebo group. The recommended dose is 500 mg before bedtime.
- L-theanine (from green tea), lemon balm, chamomile, and hops also relieve stress, induce relaxation, and facilitate sleep, as do acupuncture, reflexology, and massage.
If none of these safe, drug-free approaches help, I suggest you talk to your doctor about the prescription medication Dilantin. In these stressful times, ruminating, busy minds underlie many a restless night. Low doses of Dilantin, a drug used primarily for seizure disorders, tone down the static and help banish the worrisome thoughts that keep us awake. If your doctor is unwilling to write you a prescription, find one who will or consider making an appointment at the Whitaker Wellness Institute.
Now it’s your turn: What do you do when you can’t sleep?