Dr. Niaz MD is a healthcare professional with decades of experience assisting patients in his community in a range of medical capacities. Here, he discusses the growing use of sleeping medications in America and why so many people are becoming dependent on them.
When patients ask for sleeping medications, many physicians such as Dr. Niaz MD are hesitant to prescribe them––and with good reason. Sleep aids can be used to treat short-term insomnia (such as helping people get to sleep until they can cope after a traumatic event), but can quickly become addictive if used for a prolonged period.
“Sleeping aids, especially prescription medications, are highly effective at putting patients to sleep, but they can also have a fair amount of adverse effects that leak into their waking lives,” says Dr. Niaz MD. “Addiction can be one of them if patients look to sleeping medications as a regular solution for falling asleep.”
Common side effects include grogginess, dizziness, daytime memory or performance issues, and severe allergic reactions for some. Certain patients taking sleeping medications report headaches, lightheadedness, diarrhea, and nausea. In extreme cases, emphasizing the potential danger of these medications, a percentage of patients report activities while sleeping that they had no recollection of, such as driving a vehicle or cooking and eating food.
Sleeping aids are under a drug category called sedative-hypnotics, which is also where you will find barbiturates and benzodiazepines. The chemical makeup of these medications can vastly differ from each other, but they all have relatively similar effects on the body. They work on GABA receptors and stimulate the nervous system to induce sleep. They’re very effective and come with a long list of warnings that starts with healthcare professionals like Dr. Niaz MD recommending them only as short-term solutions to sleeping issues.
“Many times, patients will not only disregard doctor warnings but will self-diagnose when sleep doesn’t come as easily as they think it should,” says Dr. Niaz MD. “Even if the bottle or packaging explicitly states a prescribed amount, patients may decide to double or triple their dosage arbitrarily.”
Patients don’t typically recognize the signs of addiction until their bodies have already developed a need for them. They may notice negative side effects that impede some part of their life but will continue to take medications as a solution to sleep deprivation and ultimately fuel their addiction.
With continued use of sleeping medications, patients’ brains get used to the effects and make recovery after taking them continually harder. It’s not uncommon for sleeping pill addicts to suffer from something called “rebound insomnia,” which is a compounded insomnia that can be worse than their original sleeping issues.
“Sleeping pills are more accessible than ever, and many patients see them as a total solution and have no problem getting them prescribed by physicians,” says Dr. Niaz MD. “It’s easy to see why they’ve become such a widespread concern across the country.”