“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep” – Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams
We get it. Having a good night of sleep can be such an elusive hope, the inability to achieve just one night of good sleep can drive one to desperation. Sleeping pills prescribed are commonly seen as a quick fix but that is where the danger lies.
Dependency on sleeping pills
Dependence on sleeping pills can come in two forms: physical or psychological. Physical dependence means the body has adjusted to the use of the medication and once the medication is stopped, the body reacts negatively in a way without it. Psychological dependence means that a person thinks that he/she cannot sleep without the medication.
Benzodiazepines belong to the older type of sleeping pills but are still pretty widely prescribed today. Famous benzodiazepines you may have heard of include Valium and Xanax, they are also commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders.
Although highly effective, benzodiazepines are also highly associated with physical dependence that can easily lead to addiction.
Newer sleeping pills like Zolpidem (also known as the “Z-drugs”) have a lower association with physical dependence and addiction; however they can still result in psychological addiction.
Without taking the sleeping pill, a person may feel anxious or restless at night and find it difficult to sleep. If that happens, it could be a sign of physical or psychological dependence or both.
Addicted to sleeping pills
Ultimately, sleeping pills are meant for short-term use. Due to its effectiveness, it is meant to be helpful if used once in a while.
The danger comes when it is taken too often; it leads to dependence and knowingly or unknowingly – addiction.
The body can also develop tolerance to sleeping pills: steadily requiring a higher dosage to achieve the same effect.
It is important to note that both patients and doctors can easily fall into the trap of sleeping pill addiction. Patients can overuse and even doctors can over prescribe sleeping pills.
To ensure the appropriate use of sleeping pills, Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) had issued administrative guidelines on prescribing sleeping pills in October 2008.
As recommended by the MOH, use of sleeping pills should be limited to less than 2-4 weeks at the lowest effective dose.
It is also recommended that it should be taken intermittently (for example one night out of two or three nights).
If a person has a long-term habit of taking sleeping pills, it is not advisable to stop them without a doctor’s supervision as some may experience withdrawal fits or seizures.
It is better to seek medical attention and receive professional guidance.
Always speak to a doctor if you are not sure. Help is also readily available: National Addictions Management Service (NAMS): 6-RECOVER (67326837)
Is melatonin a sleeping pill alternative?
Melatonin has been identified as a naturally-occurring hormone that encourages sleep.
It has been found that the level of melatonin in the body reduces with advancing age and in some medical conditions.
Taking melatonin supplements adds to your body’s natural supply of the hormone.
This can help you get to sleep and improve the quality of your sleep when taken appropriately.
As a supplement for sleep, it is also recommended for short-term usage only.
When in doubt, always check with a doctor or pharmacist for the best advice for your needs.
Considering melatonin? Read this.
Sleeping pills are quick, but might not fix your sleep issues
Sleeping pills are designed to be fast-acting and are commonly prescribed on an as-needed basis.
Unfortunately, due to its fast effect, many people start to look to sleeping pills first to deal quickly with sleep issues.
Although sleep medications can be useful in the short-term, relying on them is not the best long-term solution for sleep issues.
Sleeping pills can mask an underlying problem that requires treatment, the best approach is to identify and address the root cause of your sleep problems.
Basic factors such as sleep hygiene and room comfort are central to good sleep. If it’s uncomfortably hot, then you might want to turn on the air conditioner or a fan. A mattress that’s unsuitable can also be the cause of poor sleep.
Certain medications, supplements or even herbal and traditional health products could also result in sleep problems.
A key factor is consuming or doing things that can affect your sleep too close to bedtime. As Singaporeans, we prefer to exercise after sundown because it’s cooler, but intense exercise can leave us with sleep difficulties.
Another Singaporean habit is eating supper just before bedtime, drinking caffeinated drinks, alcohol or smoking. Even a drink as innocuous as bubble tea can have caffeine.
Always check with a doctor to identify possible underlying causes.
In fact, the first-line treatment of insomnia involves no medications and can be as effective as or even more effective than medications.
Studies have shown that non-pharmacological methods of managing insomnia are feasible and effective alternatives to the use of sleeping pills and should be the first-line of recommendation.
Multiple sleep research societies and guidelines also endorse non-pharmacological or multi-component behavioural therapy to address insomnia.
SIRE can help you sleep better
When you have sleep issues, the first call is to see a doctor.
By sharing the challenges you have, doctors can uncover what the best method to treat your sleep issues.
If your sleep issues come from being a globetrotting executive, then the medication for jet lag could be a simple melatonin spray.
However, if you are suffering from short-term insomnia, then we could prescribe Circadin, which is prescription-grade melatonin treatment.
There’s a lot more that can be done. Book an appointment now and solve your sleep issues.