A study published by US News indicates that taking prescription sleep aids such as Ambien may increase the risk for an early death as much as five times. Ambien, or zolpidem in its generic form, is a sedative-hypnotic prescription sleep medication designed for the short-term management of insomnia.
Ambien has many side effects, even when used as directed, such as the potential for engaging in activities such as driving, having sex, or eating and then having no recollection of doing so. Ambien suppresses the central nervous system, making it easier to fall asleep; although it has a short half-life, its effects can linger into the next day, causing mental confusion, fogginess, and drowsiness as well as potential suicidal thoughts or behavioral changes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to make adjustments to include more side effects on its Ambien safety labels, the most recent indicating a potential for severe injuries due to falls related to mental impairment while under the influence of the drug.
In addition to short-term health risks, Ambien is also habit-forming. Users may become psychologically and physically dependent on the medication with regular and prolonged use or abuse. To avoid negative side effects associated with Ambien, there are several medical and natural methods that can be employed to ward off insomnia.
The New York Daily News reported that close to 9 million Americans take sleeping pills to help them fall or stay asleep as close to 10 percent of American adults may suffer from chronic insomnia. There are several pharmaceutical alternatives to Ambien, although they too may have side effects and health risks. Since the brain can become tolerant to Ambien when taken for a length of time, substituting a different medication may be effective. Medications commonly prescribed to treat insomnia in America include:
- Lunesta (eszopiclone) and Sonata (zaleplon): sedative-hypnotics similar to Ambien with similar side effects and health risks; may be an effective short-term substitute
- Restoril (temazepam) or Xanax (alprazolam): benzodiazepine medications commonly used to treat insomnia and sleep disorders short-term, although with similar and potentially greater side effects and possibly a higher potential for abuse and dependency than sedative-hypnotics when taken for longer stretches of time
- Silenor (doxepin): effective hypnotic medication; may also cause next-day impairment or amnesia while under its influence
- Rozerem (ramelteon): melatonin receptor agonist aids in falling asleep; may be very effective short-term; may cause next-day drowsiness and fatigue
- Antidepressants: some antidepressant medications may function to suppress anxiety and hyperactive neurotransmitters in the brain aiding in sleep, although dependency and tolerance may occur with long-term use
- Over-the-counter medications: generally antihistamines that may work to help with sleep, although daytime drowsiness or next-day impairment may still occur
Most of the time, taking medications as directed for no longer than intended can be very effective and safe. Taking other drugs or drinking alcohol will compound the side effects of these medications, however, and should be avoided while taking them. Many times trouble sleeping and insomnia symptoms may be a side effect of an underlying mental health or other medical issue. When symptoms persist beyond 7-10 days, an assessment should be done to rule out other potential causes.
Holistic and alternative methods
In addition to pharmaceutical methods, there are some natural remedies to help with sleep that may have fewer potential side effects. There are many herbal remedies and supplements on the market sold over-the-counter as sleep aids. Some may be effective, although be careful to understand all the ingredients and know what may be in them first.
Melatonin is a natural substance that can possibly help people fall and stay asleep; however, it is unclear what the long-term effects of taking melatonin supplements may be on natural melatonin production in the brain. What you eat may also play a role in helping you to sleep, and eating a well-balanced nutritious diet can make a difference in your sleep patterns. Eating enough protein and complex carbohydrates may aid in sleep, for instance, as may green leafy vegetables that contain magnesium, which is thought to improve sleep. Warm milk has often been touted as a method for naturally aiding sleep, and it may work since calcium may increase melatonin production as well as be soothing.
Lavender may help promote sleep, and taking a warm bath infused with the herb may be calming and relaxing. Keeping to a set sleep schedule as well as getting ample exercise during the day can improve sleep as well. Exercising too close to bedtime may actually keep you awake, however.
Unplug before bedtime, as electronic stimulation too close to attempting sleep may hinder the brain’s ability to shut itself down. Keep the room at a comfortable temperature, and consider a white noise machine to drown out other sounds that may interfere with sleep.
Sleep is a vital necessity for a healthy life, and substance abuse, addiction, and mental illness may interfere with sleep patterns. If you’d like more information on comprehensive treatment, contact The Recovery Village today.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.