We all understand the crucial role sleep plays in our survival and overall well-being. Numerous vital bodily processes and functions occur during sleep. But what do you do when sleep evades you? The frustration of countless rounds of tossing and turning can be exasperating when all you crave is rest. Can you relate?

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’ve experienced this struggle. You may have even considered sleeping pills as a last resort. Yet you might have also found yourself contemplating whether sleeping pills are genuinely unsafe due to warnings from others about their safety and potential for addiction.

This blog aims to address that very question. So, keep reading to find out more.

First things first, how do sleeping pills work?

Sleeping pills, regardless of the type work by promoting drowsiness or by directly interacting with GABA receptors in the brain. GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter responsible for inhibiting the activity of neurons, thus promoting a calming effect on the body. When components of the sleeping pills bind to GABA receptors, they enhance the inhibitory signals sent by GABA, leading to sedation and facilitating the onset of sleep.

Also, there are different types of sleeping pills, the mild ones and prescription-based ones, all of which affect the brain to promote sleep.

Mild sleeping pills

The primary function of these pills is not to promote sleep, but to treat certain allergies; inducing drowsiness is just a side effect. These are usually over-the-counter medications that work by blocking histamine, which happens to be a neurotransmitter that moves through our neurons. As these mild sleeping pills are common drugs that are usually taken to manage allergy symptoms, they should not be taken unless you are having these issues.

The stronger ones, prescription based

Most prescription drugs are used to manage persistent insomnia. These pills directly affect the function of the nervous system. These medications function by attaching to GABA receptors, which are clusters of receptors found in the human brain. GABA, a neurotransmitter primarily tasked with reducing nervous system activity, prompts feelings of drowsiness or relaxation, facilitating the onset of sleep.

So, are these sleeping pills safe?

Now coming to the question of interest, are sleeping pills safe? The short answer is both, Yes and No. It depends on your health, dosage and dependence. If you are asthmatic, you must refrain from taking sleeping pills as they can impact normal breathing, likewise for people suffering from COPD and emphysema.

Some widely reported side effects of prescription sleeping pills can include:

  • Burning sensation in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
  • Changes in appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Balance problems
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Heartburn
  • Impairment the next day
  • Cognitive issues
  • Weakness
  • Nightmares and hallucinations
  • Stomach pain or tenderness
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body

While these are the most common side effects, they vary depending on the usage. If you have been using sleeping pills for a very long time, you may be at risk of developing dementia, although more research is needed as the link is not definitive.

Melatonin supplements for sleep

Melatonin supplements are doing the rounds in the markets with claims of promoting sleep. Please note that these aren’t considered sleeping pills.  Moreover, their effectiveness may be questionable as they have not been widely tested or researched. Nevertheless, you need to be cautious before taking them as they may not contain the same levels of melatonin as mentioned on the label.  The levels can be less or more.

Beware of the Do’s and Don’ts of taking sleeping pills

If you are considering taking sleeping pills, here’s a list of do’s and don’ts you must adhere to.

  • Time your medications properly. Aim to take a sleeping pill at least 10-15 minutes before bedtime. Do not stay awake scrolling phones or doing other activities after taking the pills.  Doing so can cause sleepwalking.
  • Look for side effects and report them to your physician
  • You must also make lifestyle changes such as avoiding alcohol, caffeine and heavy meals before sleep.
  • Don’t mix sleeping pills with other drugs or alcohol
  • Don’t operate a piece of machinery or drive a car after taking sleeping pills.
  • Do not take extra sleeping pills if the first dose doesn’t work. It is a strict NO as it can be lethal
  • Don’t forget to consult your doctor before taking sleeping pills. It goes for everybody, especially those already suffering from a medical condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma. 

Closing thoughts

While sleeping pills do help, they should be the last resort and should not be taken without having a word with your doctor. They do come with risks. It’s best to address underlying stressors instead that may be the cause of sleep disorders. Follow these tips for getting a better sleep every night instead.

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