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  • Can’t Sleep?
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Health and Fitness News

Can’t Sleep?

You may want to think twice before taking a sleep aid.

You’ve got a lot on your mind and just can’t fall asleep. Or maybe for the last few weeks you’ve had trouble falling and staying asleep despite avoiding caffeine and sticking to a sleep schedule. Head to the pharmacy and you’ll find plenty of over-the-counter medications to help you get a good night’s sleep—at least for a while. But is a sleeping pill the best way to deal with your sleep problem? Don’t they, like all medications, come with risks?

Before reaching for another sleep medication, it’s good to know their possible risks and side effects. Keep reading to learn how you can get back your sleep and stay safe.

A Temporary Remedy

Everyone experiences occasional nights when sleep is elusive. During an illness, after a heated conversation, or traveling across time zones are all situations when a sleep aid can be beneficial. In these rare cases, it’s safe to take a sleeping pill.

Frequent sleepless nights, however, could be the sign of an underlying health condition. In this case, taking a sleeping pill will only serve to mask the problem. Even worse, taking a sleep aid on a regular basis causes your body to become dependent on the pills so when you stop taking them, your insomnia worsens.

Many over-the-county sleeping pills contain antihistamines. While antihistamines do tend to induce sleep, your body can build a tolerance to their effects. Therefore, the more often you take them, the less they’re able to do their job.

Types of Sleep Aids

A common sedative antihistamine found in many sleep aids is called diphenhydramine. You’ll find this ingredient in Benadryl and Unisom. Possible negative side effects include drowsiness the next day, headaches, dizziness, clumsiness, blurred vision, confusion, rapid heart rate, dry mouth, and constipation.

Doxylamine succinate is another type of antihistamine sedative with similar side effects to diphenhydramine.

Valerian plant supplements are advertised to help you sleep, though its effects aren’t as powerful. No negative side effects have been proven with valerian plant supplements, and it’s not habit-forming.

Another naturally derived sleep aid is made with melatonin. Your body should already produce melatonin in response to darkness, but theories suggest you may need a little boost of melatonin supplement to help you sleep. Taking melatonin may be especially helpful for people working night shift or coming off of jet lag. Its effect is mild and may cause headaches or sleepiness the next day. If you choose this more natural route, keep in mind the FDA doesn’t regulate what are deemed “natural” remedies.

Safety Precautions

To avoid the potential dangers of over-the-counter sleep aids, it’s important to obey the following rules

  • Before taking sleeping pills or herbal remedies, check with your doctor. Some medications and supplements interact with certain medications and may not be safe for people older than 75 as they increase the chances of dementia.
  • The active ingredients diphenhydramine and doxylamine shouldn’t be taken if you have sleep apnea, urinary retention, asthma, liver disease, or other health conditions.
  • Never plan to take over-the-counter sleeping pills for longer than two weeks. If sleep troubles persist after that time, make an appointment to see your doctor. Lifestyle changes, behavioral therapy, or prescription sleep medication may be necessary.
  • Taking sleeping pills with alcohol is a dangerous combination that increases the sedative effects of both drugs. Difficulty breathing and even death are possible.

In addition, don’t drink grapefruit juice or eat grapefruit while taking sleeping pills. The grapefruit causes more of the drug to be absorbed by the body than is considered safe.

So the next time you need some good shuteye, think carefully before popping a sleeping pill. Your long-term health may depend on it.