Can taking sleeping pills everyday cause harm to your body?

Insomnia is a common debilitating condition accompanied by various psychiatric, medical, and sleep disorders. Almost three out of every five Americans complain of having a poor sleep and experiencing insomnia. Hence, prescription sleeping pills have become the medicine of the hour. Whenever people are facing difficulty sleeping, all they have to do is take a tablet, and within a few minutes, they would be fast asleep. 

Although sleeping pills come with legitimate uses and doses, studies have also stated that these pills’ continuous intake can lead to significant side effects and risks. According to Dr Marc Leavey of MD Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, “Sleeping pills are well-tolerated and fairly safe. However, if they are improperly used, they can cause various problems”. But, before we further get into the complications that sleeping pills can cause, let us first know more about them (1).

Sleeping pills: what are they?

Also known as sedative-hypnotics, most sleeping pills are consumed for maintaining or inducing sleep. The sedative-hypnotics include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and other types of hypnotics.  

While benzodiazepines like Librium, Ativan, Valium, and Xanax are primarily anti-anxiety medications, they can increase drowsiness and help people get some sleep. These drugs can help cope with sleep disorders or lack of quality sleep for a short time; benzodiazepines are considered potentially addictive drugs that can cause problems with attention and memory. Most doctors do not recommend the consumption of these medications as a long-term treatment option for sleep disorders (2).

Another drug from the hypnotic sedative class, barbiturates, depresses the CNS (central nervous system) that can cause sedation. Doctors prescribe long or short-acting barbiturates as sleeping pills or sedatives. However, they can be used as anaesthesia, but the doses should be highly regulated to prevent fatal consequences of an overdose. 

Nevertheless, newer medications in the market help reduce the time taken by an individual in falling asleep. These sleep-inducing drugs such as Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta work the same way as benzodiazepines but are less likely to lead to habit-formation among consumers. But in some cases, consumers have developed somewhat physical dependence after using them for a long time. However, they work quickly that increases drowsiness and facilitates quality sleep. 

Rozerem is another sleeping aid that acts differently compared to other sleep medications. They affect melatonin, a brain hormone that is not habit-forming. Likewise, belsomra affects orexin, another brain hormone that prevents the possibility of habit formation or addiction. 

Possible Risks of Consuming Sleeping Pills Regularly

Prescription sleep aids might look like the best cure for any sleep disorder at first. However, just like any other medicine, there are side effects of regularly consuming sleeping pills too. When your doctor prescribes certain sleeping pills to you, they can alert you of possible side effects that you can experience. 

Hence, some of the common side effects include, 

Tolerance Build-up

By taking prescription sleeping aids for a long time, the body gets accustomed to those drugs. Therefore, over time you would require higher doses of medicines to get a similar sleep-inducing effect. However, taking extremely high doses can cause depressed breathing during sleep that can even lead to death. 

Hence, the only way to avoid such side effects is by taking the pills for no longer than two weeks. Individuals suffering from short-term sleep disorders need to consume these medications in regulated quantities to re-establish standard sleeping patterns. 

Irresponsible Driving

Studies have shown that certain sleeping pills such as Ambien might remain in the consumers’ body several hours after intake. People, especially women who consume extended-release forms of these drugs, are at the risk of impaired driving. That is why the United States Food and Drug Administration requires drug manufacturers to reduce the recommended dose of sleeping aid for women. 

To avoid next-day daytime drowsiness, individuals should ensure that they are getting adequate sleep quality after consuming certain sleeping pills. 

Erratic Behavior

Sleeping aids such as triazolam and benzodiazepines, can make individuals do strange activities while sleeping, such as amnesia and sleepwalking. People who sleepwalk walk during their sleep and do not know where they are when they wake up. This is highly experienced among people who consume Ambien sleeping pills. 

Any strange behaviour experienced while taking sleeping pills should promptly be reported to the doctor to avoid severe future complications. 

Cancer and even Death

Regular users of prescription sleeping aids have higher chances of getting diagnosed with cancer. A study conducted by the BMJ Open in 2021 stated that it could even lead to death in some cases. However, evidence related to this claim is in limited quantity. 

A new study has further suggested that popular sleeping pills like Restoril and Ambien increase early death chances by five-fold. In 2010, almost 500,000 deaths in the United States were caused by regularly consuming sleeping pills. 

Wrapping Up

It would be best to take sleeping pills only when all your attempts at getting quality and adequate sleep have failed. Even then, you should ensure that you are sleeping for at least 8 hours after taking the pills. Sometimes underlying health issues can further worsen the effect of these pills on your body. Therefore, you should ensure that you follow the doctor’s proper guidance when you are consuming these medicines. 

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