The Danger with Sleeping Pills
We have all had a bad night sleep. Most of us either wake up grumpy, short tempered, or extremely exhausted. Our bodies feel it, and we reach to our favorite liquid stimulant – coffee. For some of us, one bad night of sleep leads to another and before you know it, acute insomnia. These bad nights start to affect your daytime performance, and before you know it, chronic insomnia. Thus leading to Sleeping Pills.
As a holistic pharmacist and sleep coach with 10 years of experience, I have seen firsthand the dangers of sleeping pills. While these medications can be effective in treating insomnia short term, they come with significant risks that cannot be ignored. In this blog post, I will discuss the most common types of sleeping pills and their potential dangers.
“I do my best to present the best and most accurate information here, but here’s what I am – a pharmacist and holistic sleep coach. I’m not a doctor or psychologist so use your best judgement when implementing my information.”
Table of Contents
Which sleeping pills are dangerous?
It is essential to understand which sleeping pills are dangerous to avoid potential harm. Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and Valium, are highly addictive and can lead to dependence. They can cause drowsiness, confusion, and impaired coordination, making them dangerous when driving or operating machinery.
Z-hypnotics, including Ambien and Lunesta, are another class of sleeping pills that can be dangerous. While they are commonly prescribed for short-term use, they can be addictive, leading to dependence and withdrawal symptoms. They can also cause memory loss, sleepwalking, and other parasomnias that can be dangerous.
How do sleeping pills work?
To understand the potential dangers of sleeping pills, it is essential to know how they work. Most sleeping pills work by enhancing the effect of GABA, a neurotransmitter that inhibits the activity of the central nervous system. By slowing down brain activity, sleeping pills can promote sleep. However, prolonged use of sleeping pills can lead to tolerance, meaning that the body becomes less responsive to the medication, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect.
Something that is not talked about enough is the ability of these GABA drugs to bind so aggressively to the GABA receptors in your brain. Experts have theorized that your GABA receptors get so mangled by these drugs and they can make your natural GABA ineffective. This only becomes a problem with some people when they try to get off the medication and realize the withdrawal effects
Is taking sleeping pills bad for you?
Many people wonder if taking sleeping pills is bad for them. While they can be effective in treating short-term insomnia, sleeping pills can have significant side effects, such as daytime drowsiness, impaired concentration, memory problems, and even addiction. It is essential to understand the risks associated with sleeping pill use to make an informed decision about whether they are right for you.
Like many others, we will head to our regular doctor, and tell them about an option that you heard of on television or from a friend. If you are lucky, you doctor may recommend changes in your sleep like sleep hygiene tips and to seek a behavioral consultant. Given that we live in a society that seems to have a medication for every symptom, you will most likely get your sleeping aid. And if you find yourself taking that medication every night, you will also notice that the effects will eventually wear off or lessen over time. Before you know it you need a stronger dose, a stronger sedative, and you can’t sleep without it!
Did you know, the majority of sleep medication state in there FDA labeling that you should not use these medications more than 6 months. So, why are sleeping pills dangerous?
Dangerous Sleeping Pills
At the top of the list of dangerous sleeping pills, you have:
- Barbituates (Phenobarbital, pentobarbital, primidone), not very common
- Benzodiazepines (Temazepam, Clonazepam, Lorazepam, Diazepam, or Alprazolam)
- Z hypnotics (Zolpidem, Zeleplon, or eszopiclone)
These medications are known for their dangerous depressing effects on the central nervous system (CNS). Sedation is one key problem, but these medications are notorious for interacting with other CNS depressing agents like common pain medication, certain cough medications (containing Dextromethorphan, nerve medications (Gabapentin or Lyrica), and alcohol. The interaction with the CNS agents above have led to countess hospital visits due toxicity, respiratory depression, or death.
On a more general scale, these sleeping pills whether they be the one listed above (Barbituates, Benzodiazepines, or Z hypnotics) or antihistamine (Benadryl) seems to shut down brain activity (1). This could explain a lot of the longer term side effects with the body’s immune system that I will talk about further later in the article.
Briefly, let’s look into some of the most common sleeping pills. Based on this article, I will not be diving into off label uses of medications for sleep such as anti-epileptic (Gabapentin), antidepressant (trazodone or Mirtazapine), or antipsychotic medication (Quetiapine or Olanzapine) used for sleep. Although these are common medications that are used for treating other conditions while eliciting a sedating effect, please leave a comment below if you have questions about any other medications that I do not talk about here. The sleeping pills listed below are some of the most commonly used medications that are prescribed for insomnia. We will start with the Barbituates.
If you want to jump to the side effects of your sleeping pill. Here are some hyperlinks to the sleeping pills in this article:
Old school sleeping pills, Barbituates
Barbiturates are a class of sedative drugs that were commonly prescribed for sleep disorders in the mid-20th century. Some of the most common barbiturates used for sleep included secobarbital (Seconal), pentobarbital (Nembutal), and phenobarbital (Luminal). These drugs work by depressing the central nervous system, which can lead to drowsiness and sedation. However, they also come with significant risks.
Barbituates Sleeping Pill Side Effects
One of the most significant short-term dangers of barbiturates is the potential for overdose. These drugs can be highly addictive and can lead to physical dependence, meaning that users may need higher and higher doses to achieve the same effects. Barbiturate overdose can be fatal, leading to respiratory depression and, in severe cases, coma and death. Additionally, barbiturates can cause a range of side effects, including dizziness, confusion, impaired coordination, and memory problems. Despite these risks, barbiturates have been featured in popular culture, including in films like “Valley of the Dolls,” which portrays the dangers of addiction to these powerful sedatives.
In the long term, barbiturate use can lead to a range of health problems, including liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory problems. Chronic use of these drugs can also lead to physical and psychological dependence, making it difficult to quit without professional help. As a result, barbiturates are no longer commonly prescribed for sleep disorders and have largely been replaced by safer and more effective medications. While they may have a place in some medical settings, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with barbiturate use and to seek help if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to these dangerous drugs.
Common Benzo’s used for sleep
Benzodiazepines are a class of medication commonly used for their sedative effects in treating anxiety, muscle strain, seizures, and insomnia. However, it’s important to understand that these medications are not ideal for sleep as they do not guarantee natural and deep quality sleep. Here are some important points to keep in mind about Benzodiazepines:
Common Benzodiazepines used for sleep are
- Temazepam (Restoril®) is the most common medication in this class that is used for sleep, but Alprazolam, Clonazepam, Diazepam, and Lorazepam have also made their way into the category for sleep due to their popular sedative effects.
Benzodiazepines – Sleeping pill side effects
It’s important to understand the nature of Benzodiazepines and why they are not ideal for sleep. Not only do they work as hypnotic medication (sedating you or making you feel drowsy), but they have also been used in anxiety relief, muscle strain, and for seizures, proving to be a very powerful brain and whole body sedative. These medications can be dangerous due to their prevalent interactions with common medications like pain medications, muscle relaxers, and alcohol. People have reported events like amnesia or significant hangover-like effects the next morning. The elderly population is in grave danger while taking these medications, with a higher risk of major falls, leading to serious bone fractures that can significantly decrease the quality of life, increase mortality, and worsen other comorbidities.
Benzodiazepines can also interfere with common conditions like asthma and COPD, decreasing respiration ability and worsening chronic lung conditions. Doctors have witnessed accidental overdose with patients taking Benzodiazepines with COPD or Asthma, which can lead to hospitalization.
For many of us, there are certain medications like Diazepam and Flurazepam that are metabolized and those metabolites remain active on the GABA A Receptor causing these sedative effects. If that’s not bad enough, these metabolites accumulate over time as you continue to use these medications daily. Of course, everyone’s metabolism is different, and your body might metabolize differently than others. With that said, another popular medication of choice, Chlordiazepoxide, can stay in your body for weeks, causing this type of sedation and potential for overdose more likely. It’s essential to be aware of the short-term dangers of these medications, especially when used for sleep. In the next section, we’ll discuss the long-term side effects of Benzodiazepines and why it’s important to find alternatives for better sleep.
Long-Term Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Use
Long-term use of benzodiazepines can have detrimental effects on a person’s cognitive function, memory, and overall mental health. Chronic use of these medications can lead to cognitive impairment, including difficulty with concentration, attention, and memory. Studies have also shown that long-term benzodiazepine use can increase the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, benzodiazepines can have a negative impact on a person’s emotional well-being, causing depression and anxiety.
In addition to cognitive and mental health effects, long-term use of benzodiazepines can also have physical consequences. Prolonged use of these drugs can lead to a number of health problems, including respiratory depression, weakened immune system, and increased risk of infections. Benzodiazepines can also lead to dependence and addiction, making it difficult to stop taking them even when it’s necessary. The longer a person is on benzodiazepines, the more difficult it can be to withdraw from them, and the risk of withdrawal symptoms increases. It is important to understand the potential long-term consequences of benzodiazepine use and to work with a healthcare provider to find alternative treatments for anxiety and sleep disorders.
About Metabolism: Side note and slight tangent, but important.
Our body has a unique and complex feature that is operated by the liver. The liver produces these enzymes that we abbreviate and call them Cytochrome P450 enzymes that will interact and change these drug structures to either an inactive component or another active component that can wreak havoc on areas of the body. This is why having a drug specialist a part of your team is paramount. However, just because you have these metabolic enzymes that break down these chemicals does not mean they will work perfectly when you need them to. Several things can affect your drug metabolism and here are a couple of things you should think about.
- Genetic components: Different people have a genetic component that allows them to make these metabolic enzymes that rev up certain medications. Have you ever me someone that had to take higher doses of certain medication than everyone else before they had the desired effect. I had a friend that needed a higher dose of alcohol than myself, and I would consider him a light weight like me!
- Liver workload: Your body gets preoccupied when you give it other things to do. For instance, if you are taking any other medication that can suck up your resources in general, you will notice a slowdown in drug metabolism. Therefore, being on other chronic medications in general, you want to avoid being on any other medication that can cause a sedation effect or any other disastrous effect.
- Nutrient deficiencies: It should be obvious, but we rarely think about the nutritional component that is involved to fuel this important process. In general, eating a healthy diet with a variety of different vegetables of all sorts of colors can boost your metabolism. Especially your cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, or Brussel sprouts. For example, when your body detoxifies alcohol, your body uses us resources like magnesium, Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Vitamin C, and Coenzyme Q10. So, if you are worried about a big night of drinking, you could support this process with a great multivitamin and these supplements plus Sesamin and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) to help with the headache, nausea, thirst, and light sensitivity.
- Exercise or Sweating: As you can imagine, the ability to move and allow blood to flow can help push out metabolites by cleaning out the Lymphatic system and allowing for more blood to flow through the liver and allow the medication to metabolize and get filtered out through kidneys. In addition, sweating from exercise or a sauna can help push out toxins and certain metabolites. Just remember, that it is very important to take a shower afterwards and possibly use a skin brush to rid yourself of any toxic chemicals.
- Water intake: So Important! You can not stay healthy and active if you do not drink water. Your organs need water to continue to work optimally. It helps to replenish lost fluid and helps to keep the body operating optimally.
What are Z Hypnotics? Ambien and others
As a holistic pharmacist with over 10 years of experience, it’s important to look at the whole picture when considering any sleep medication. While the Z hypnotic drug class may have been preferred over the Benzodiazepines due to their quicker onset and shorter duration of action, it’s important to understand the potential risks and side effects associated with their use.
There are three main drugs in the Z hypnotic drug class: Zolpidem (Ambien®), Zaleplon (Sonata®), and Eszopiclone (Lunesta®). Each drug has its own unique characteristics and may be prescribed based on individual patient needs. For example, Zaleplon may be prescribed for patients who have difficulty falling asleep, while Eszopiclone may be prescribed for those who have difficulty staying asleep.
Z Hypnotic Sleeping Pill Side effects
Short-term side effects of Z hypnotics include dizziness, drowsiness, headache, and gastrointestinal issues. However, one of the most dangerous side effects is the ability to put the patient in a hypnotic state, leading to potential safety concerns such as sleepwalking or sleep-driving. These medications also carry similar risks as the Benzodiazepine class, including drug interactions and increased risk of falls and fractures in the elderly population.
In an article, A man traveling on airplane from London to San Francisco decided to take Zolpidem 10 mg (Z-hypnotic). He thought he had slept and had funny dreams of people on the plane. And then when he awoke, he saw all the crazy photos on his phone of himself and other passengers on the plane. He had found himself in a situation where he was in a light state of sleep and easily aroused by the environmental stimuli. Needless to say, he was very lucky that he did not experience anything inappropriate while on the flight.
Antihistamines (Benadryl® or ZzzQuil®)
It is important to address the potential dangers of using antihistamines like Benadryl as sleeping pills, especially for the elderly. While these medications are easy to purchase over-the-counter without a prescription, it is important to recognize that they can still have serious side effects, particularly for older individuals.
Benadryl and similar sleeping pill side effects
First generation antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®), doxylamine (Vicks NyQuil®), and brompheniramine (Dimetapp Cold®) are known to cause a range of unwanted side effects for the elderly including extreme dry mouth, urine retention, constipation, elevated blood pressure, dizziness, and sedation. Additionally, those who use antihistamines for sleep may experience less deep stage and REM sleep, which can result in feelings of drowsiness and sedation upon waking.
A study conducted by Saras et al (1) revealed that antihistamine drugs not only block Histamine 1 Receptors in the brain to cause sedation, but also trigger sedation through the same receptors as Benzodiazepines and Z hypnotics, which are the GABA a Receptors. This can cause the brain activity to essentially shut down and become less effective. As a result, the brain’s ability to trigger the body’s natural pathways to recover in Deep Stage REM sleep and REM sleep can be affected. This can leave an individual feeling less rested in the morning or even groggy. It is important to note that these effects can be even more potent and dangerous for the elderly, as their kidneys may not be as effective in filtering out the metabolites of these medications, which can stay in their bodies longer and cause more potent effects.
As we age, our kidneys may not be as effective at filtering out the metabolites of these medications, meaning they can stay in our bodies longer and have a more potent effect than we are used to. This can increase the risk of side effects and potentially cause more harm to the elderly population.
It is important to note that long-term use of antihistamines like sleeping pills can also have negative effects on cognitive function and memory. As a holistic pharmacist, I recommend exploring alternative sleep aids that are safer and more effective for long-term use.
Natural Sleeping Pills
Natural sleep aids, including herbs and supplements, have become popular alternatives to prescription and over-the-counter medications. Common natural sleep aids include Valerian root, passion flower, lavender, lemon balm, and chamomile, each with their own uses and potential side effects. I have a supplement that I use listed below called Botanicalm PM that you can use at night. It contains many of these the ingredients above that help relax and calm the nervous system. It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before trying any new supplement or herb, especially if pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking other medications. Other natural remedies for insomnia include melatonin, which helps regulate sleep-wake cycles, glycine powder, an amino acid that helps regulate sleep, and magnesium glycinate, a form of magnesium that promotes relaxation. Often times to increase the production of serotonin, doctors wil use inositol powder as well. I have listed all these products that are aviable through by fullscript whole saler. You will have to sign up for a fullscript account and it doesn’t take more than 30 seconds. As with any supplement or medication, it’s important to discuss with a healthcare provider before use.
Botanicalm PM is an excellent solution for those experiencing disrupted sleep due to stress and over-stimulation. The formula contains ingredients that work together to support GABA activity, which helps promote a sense of relaxation and trigger the sleep cycle. Valerian root is a well-known herb used for sleep-related issues, while passionflower and jujube have historically been used to produce relaxation. L-theanine supports resilience to stress, and hops strobile extract has a calming effect. With 450 mg valerian root extract, 200 mg jujube seed extract, 150 mg passionflower extract, 150 mg L-theanine and 100 mg hops strobile extract in each two-capsule serving, Botanicalm PM offers an effective way to promote relaxation and restful sleep.
Directions: Take 2 capsules 1 hour before bedtime.
Reacted Magnesium Powder is an essential supplement for many bodily functions like energy production and nerve and muscle function. Its powder form allows for easy dosing and absorption, and the magnesium bisglycinate chelate provides superior bioavailability and gentle digestive support. Directions: Mix 1 scoop of strawberry-flavored powder with liquid and drink 1 hour before bedtime for optimal absorption.
Melatonin 1 mg
Directions: Take 1 to 3 capsules one hour before bedtime. Larger doses can be given for older individuals.
Melatonin Emulsified Liquid
Directions: Squirt 1 pump in the mouth and let it sit for 30 seconds before swallowing. Take 1 hour before bedtime.
Directions: Pour 3 grams (1/2 teaspoon) with water or relaxing tea 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.
This vegan, hypoallergenic powder formula is easy to use and integrate into your daily routine.
Directions: Mix 1 scoop with liquid or let powder dissolve on the tongue. Inositol has a pleasant, sweet taste. Consume 1 hour before bedtime.
When to Consider Taking Sleeping Pills: A Guide
When it comes to taking sleeping pills, it’s important to understand when they can be helpful and when they should be avoided. Here are some situations in which taking sleeping pills may be appropriate:
- Traumatic events and sleeplessness: After experiencing a traumatic event, it can be difficult to calm the mind enough to fall asleep. Along with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, we may prescribe a sedative to help attain some sleep. A sedative can help you break the cycle of sleeplessness and anxiety and get the rest you need to begin the healing process.
- Short-term sleep issues: If you’ve had several days of poor sleep, a sedative can be a useful short-term solution. However, it’s important not to make taking sleeping pills a chronic habit. Relying on medication to fall asleep every night can lead to dependence and may not address the root cause of your sleep issues. If you are having issues with multiple nights, you may want to check my article on “How to strengthen your circadian rhythm?”
- Jet lag: Traveling across time zones can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle and cause jet lag. While melatonin supplements may help, they don’t work for everyone. In these cases, experimenting with a sleeping pill may be an option to help reset your sleep schedule. However, it’s important to discontinue use once you’ve adjusted to your new time zone.
It’s important to note that while sleeping pills can be helpful in some situations, they should be used with caution and under the guidance of an experienced healthcare provider. It’s also important to address any underlying causes of sleep issues, such as anxiety or sleep apnea, and consider lifestyle changes that promote better sleep, such as regular exercise and a consistent sleep schedule. With the right approach, you can get the restful, restorative sleep your body needs.
Do Sleeping Pills Really Cause Harm?
Sleeping pills are commonly used by people who experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. However, the question arises as to whether sleeping pills are safe to use or not. In 2015, Dr. Daniel Kripke, a medical doctor from the University of California San Diego, conducted research on over 200 studies to determine the risks and harmful effects of sleep medication.
Based on the research, there were some alarming findings associated with sleeping pills. There was an increased incidence of death related to respiratory failure, accidental deaths due to drug interactions, suicides, and even homicides. The hypnotic state induced by the use of Benzodiazepines and Z-hypnotics was found to be a major contributing factor to these incidents.
In addition, people who took sleep medication for over 6 months were found to have a higher risk of death due to cancer and serious infections. It is believed that sleep medications could compromise the immune system, making it easier for cancer cells and infections to take hold.
So, how does sleep affect our immune system? Studies have shown that natural sleep can strengthen our immune system by bolstering the immune cells that destroy cancer cells in its early stages. Additionally, during sleep, our brain is highly active and relays messages to the rest of the body to recharge our immune cells.
However, researchers have found that sedatives like sleeping pills can reduce brain wave activity and affect the quality of sleep. This reduction in quality of sleep and brain wave activity can also weaken the immune response of the body, minimizing cell repair and weakening the growth of new immune protective cells. This could eventually lead to an increased risk of serious infections or cancer over a long period of time.
Lastly, the use of sleeping pills should be approached with caution, and it is advisable to explore other alternatives before resorting to medication.
Sleep Deprivation and our Immune System: How Lack of Sleep Affects Our Health
We all know that sleep is important for our health, but did you know that it also plays a crucial role in our immune system? Studies have shown that short-term sleep deprivation can have negative effects on our immune system and increase our susceptibility to infections.
Here are some examples of studies that have shown this:
- Dr. Eric Prather from the University of California San Francisco performed a sleep experiment. He quarantined 150 people and squirted a rhinovirus (common cold virus) and monitored for symptoms. He found a linear infection rate the lesser you slept. Lack of sleep makes it easier for us to catch a cold, and this study showed that the less sleep we get, the higher the likelihood of catching the virus.
- In a 2002 study, researchers separated participants that slept under 5 hours and a full 7.5 hours for 6 nights. Then, the participants were given a flu shot and their immune response was measured. Participants with less than 5 hours of sleep had 50% less of an immune response than a fully rested individual. Sleep deprivation weakens our immune response, making us more vulnerable to infections such as the flu.
- Natural Killer (NK) Cells are a type of immune cell that sweep the body of dangerous elements. In a study by Dr. Michael Irwin, he evaluated the concentration of these cells after one night of 4 hours of sleep. He had noticed over 70% of NK Cells were swept away compared to someone that had 8 hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation also affects the number of NK cells, reducing their concentration and thus weakening our immune system.
- Dr. David Gozal experimented in mice that were implanted with tumors cells and that were deprived of sleep. He saw the mice with less sleep had greater mutation of their cancer, and also saw more resistance in the cancer genes compared to more rested mice. Lack of sleep can also have serious implications on cancer cells, causing them to mutate and become more resistant to treatment.
It’s important to note that these are just a few examples of how sleep deprivation affects our immune system. There are countless other studies that show the negative effects of sleep deprivation on our immune cells, our gut bacteria, blood pressure, diabetes, mental health, and cancer. So, make sure to prioritize sleep and give your body the rest it needs to stay healthy and strong.
5 expert sleep tips on how to get off of sleeping pills:
- Taper off slowly: Gradually reduce the dosage of sleeping pills instead of suddenly stopping them to avoid withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and insomnia.
- Stick to a sleep routine: Establish a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This tip and the tips I write out on how to strengthen your circadian rhythm can help reduce a lot of physical stress on your body.
- Create a sleep-friendly environment: Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet, and remove electronic devices that emit light.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to calm the mind and body before bed. Expert tip: Practice meditation and deep breathing during the day
- Work with a professional: Consult a doctor that specializes in weaning who specializes in sleep to address underlying issues that may have led to the dependence on sleeping pills and explore alternative treatments or therapies.
Professional Help for Insomnia
- There are many techniques and behavioral modifications that have been clinically proven to help fix sleep issues. On top of this, there is so much we can do throughout the day to help get our body ready for sleep. There are also corrections that we can do to our physiology that help support healthy sleep.
- For a sleep consultant, these recommendations to our clients come with experience and training, but there is no one fix for all. We have to review your detailed questionnaire and food & beverage log to identify these potential issues. Also taking into consideration your health history, medications, and laboratory tests (optional). I take a very detailed holistic approach to fix sleep. But fixing your sleep is only the beginning. When sleep is gained naturally, then any investment in your health like diet modifications or new workout routines becomes easier and more efficient.
- To check out sleep packages and other options available to you, please visit my services!
Zeke Medina is a Certified Adult Sleep Consultant that works with teenagers and adults struggling with insomnia and other sleep issues. Zeke has over 10 years of experience in the medical field helping individuals with chronic health issues and insomnia.