3 Reasons to Break the Sleeping Pill Habit – And 5 Tips to Fall Asleep Naturally

Sleeping Pill

To get a good night’s sleep, many people will do almost anything, with the default option for millions being sleeping pills. Trouble is, there’s mounting evidence of dangers that may be far worse than anyone could have imagined. While I’ve always advised my patients to avoid drugs to induce sleep, the message needs to get out to a wider audience, which is why I encourage everyone who cares about their health to spread the word, particularly to their less health-savvy friends and loved ones, about the potentially devastating effects sleeping pills can have on both short and long-term health. Here’s why quitting – very slowly, over time, and under your doctor’s supervision to minimize withdrawal symptoms – is so important. In short, it’s all about risk:

1. Increased Risk of Dementia

When it comes to brain function, the news about sleeping pill use gets scarier by the minute. Several recent British and French studies involving older adults concluded that those who took benzodiazepines, the class of drugs often prescribed to combat sleep disorders, put users at a roughly 50% higher dementia risk than non-users. Another 2012 study published in the British Medical Journal linked prescription sleeping pill use to an increased risk of death. And it’s not just the classic meds like Valium, Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan that are cause for concern. Cash-cow sleep aids like Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata also make the list as they behave much like the benzodiazepines, acting on the same receptors, switching on the brain-activity brakes and making sleep come more swiftly, usually within minutes.

2. Risk of Dependency, Addiction and Over-dose

People love their sleeping pills because they’re effortless, effective and fast-acting, usually delivering their knockout punch in under half an hour. Trouble is, the more reliant on sleeping pills the body becomes, the more dangerous they become. Take them for an extended period and tolerance increases —the need for more of the drug to get the same result. Next stop on the escalating-dose train? Accidental fatal overdose, when essential bodily functions, like breathing and heartbeat, slow, then stop altogether. In my opinion, taking sleeping pills is like playing with fire, so don’t start in the first place. If you already have an affinity for drugs like Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta or benzodiazepines, don’t try to quit cold turkey. Depending on how hooked you are, suddenly stopping the pills can be extremely dangerous – think panic attacks, depression, rebound insomnia, seizures, psychosis, etc. – so go slow and work with your doctor to establish a medically supervised plan to taper off.

3. Risk of “Unusual” Behaviors

In some cases, the behavioral side-effects of sleeping pills can be so bizarre, insomnia may seem a saner option. Strange behaviors like sleep-eating, online sleep-shopping and far more alarming ones like sleepwalking or even sleep-driving can put users in precarious situations, causing injury to themselves and others. Prescription sleeping pills tend to put most people in a state somewhat akin to a blackout, leaving them utterly unable to recall what’s happened while they were under the influence. For some this might make for an amusing anecdote (i.e. wandering off and waking up in a strange place or eating odd foods in the middle of the night), for others, these drugs could be life-threatening. Unfortunately, sleeping pills are believed to have played pivotal roles in a number of incidents of road-rage, car accidents, criminal behavior, sexual assault and even mass gun violence. While such extreme examples may not be the norm, they do point to the drug’s ability to trigger wildly erratic or aberrant behaviors in some users.

So What’s a Troubled Sleeper To Do?

The good news is, you don’t have to lose sleep or tough it out – it’s possible to fall asleep without a pharmaceutical blow to the head. Here are 5 sleep-savvy strategies to put you on the path to sleep success:

1. Rest Your Belly

To rest easier, eat light at night, at least 3 hours before bed to ensure your body will be resting instead of digesting, which can make it tougher to fall asleep.

2. Deprive Your Senses

To fall asleep faster, you’ll need a cool, quiet, dark room. Blackout curtains, sleep masks, earplugs, and a white noise machine (optional) will also help ease the transition to dreamland.

3. Prepare to Sleep

Turn off all screens, computers, iPads, Iphones, etc., at least one hour or more before bed. Engage in quiet, relaxing activities to help downshift mind and body to a sleep-friendlier state.

4. Try Taking a Little Melatonin Strategically

Melatonin in low doses for short periods – no more than a week or two at a time – can help regulate sleep rhythms. Generally, 1/2mg -2 mg about an hour and a half before bed should do the trick.

5. Power Down With Calming Nutrients

My favorites are Magnesium (300-600 mg); the amino acids L theanine (100-500mg), 5 HTP (50-100mg), taurine and GABA, or herbs like lemon balm, passion flower, chamomile, magnolia and valerian root. The Be Well Sleep Formula contains most of these nutrients, all in one formula.

For 12 more essential tips, check out Sleep Solutions: 14 Ways to Sleep Better, Tonight! and Sleep Tonight:
 The Step-by-Step Sleep Solution and you’ll be sleeping like a pro

  • TG

    I’ve spent 20 years on Ambien, and was able to get off of it, thanks to help from my acupuncturist and other holistic practitioners. I am suffering from severe long term memory loss. Any suggestions on how to restore memory issues?

    Many thanks!

  • Dr. Kirk Parsley, a former Navy SEAL doctor, found that using sleeping pills like Ambien will render you unconscious, similar to being in a coma or passed out drunk, but NOT asleep. This discovery is profound. In this state you are missing out on all the essential benefits of sleep.

    If you want to learn more about the crazy things people do when under the influence of sleeping pills google “Ambien made me do it”. There’s some wild stuff there.

  • Malka Margolies

    OK. And what if you faithfully follow steps one through five and you still don’t sleep? That is my situation. So I tried Ambien, which worked for a few weeks and then had no impact, and then I tried Ativan and that too worked for a few weeks and then stopped helping. The implication of these five steps is that it is your own fault if you are an insomniac. That is not always the case and sometimes the benefits of a drug outweigh the negatives but alas in my case even the drugs provided no relief. If you get zero sleep a night your health is at extreme risk right now…not down the road and for some people the drugs may be useful. In my case, neither the drugs or the above steps help.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. Thank you for this enlightenment. I’ve read that a year or so ago the medical powers that be said that the standard 10 MG Ambien was too much, leaving hangover sleepiness; they now recommend 5 MG as a standard dose. I hadn’t known the other side effects. I’ve been taking half a 5 MG for years, never more, thinking I was avoiding side effects. After reading your article I’d like to try getting off altogether. I’ve tried some of your more natural suggestions, but will try again. It’s a conundrum as there are risks involved in not sleeping, which of course was my original problem — to say nothing of the awfulness of lying awake all night.

  • Finally! Someone who agrees with my view that sleeping pill is a no-no even if you are desperate! If you truly want to cure your sleeplessness, I highly suggest that you check out http://www.SleepWellSecrets.com for a interesting yet effective method.

  • Kathy

    I have had insomnia sin I was a teenager and most days was tired and irritable. When I turned 40 my doctor prescribed Sonata and it has changed my life. I can think straight, no longer have heart palpitations or headaches from lack of sleep and I can focus for a lot longer on complex tasks since my brain is working better. I would rather take the chance of dementia Down the road and feel rested and productive for the majority of my life. Sonata will keep working if you takes short breaks and use a different sleep aid like a benzo for a week or so. Hope this helps. No reason to live life in sleep deprived misery.

  • Sheila

    I have no problem falling asleep, but I wake up every hour and half, wide awake. I do this all night.
    What to do? Can’t take Melatonin.