If you’re someone who suffers from insomnia, you may be willing to try just about anything to get a decent night of sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation is dangerous for your health and mental wellbeing, but many people with sleep troubles turn to medications that are almost as dangerous.
Sleeping pills come with a lot of risks, and they often don’t address the underlying problem that is causing the insomnia in the first place. In many cases, it is healthier and safer to avoid or wean yourself off of sleeping pills and find a natural solution.
The dangers of sleeping pills
Sleeping pills are considered “sedative hypnotics,” which essentially means they induce sleep, sometimes by depressing the nervous system or by increasing drowsiness. Often, these medications interact with the hormones and receptors in the brain.
Sleeping pills come with many risks that most people aren’t aware of. Because of their risks, many doctors will only prescribe them for the short term. Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve the underlying problem of insomnia and can lead to over-dependence.
One of the biggest dangers of sleeping pills is their high risk of addiction and abuse. Even if they are taken as directed, the chemicals in the medications can be habit-forming, increasing the user’s reliance on them and/or causing worsened effects should they stop taking them. They might also cause psychological dependence, during which you believe you are unable to sleep without them.
Beyond these risks, sleeping pills can also have myriad side effects, particularly concerning breathing. Some users may experience problems like dizziness, headaches and difficulty concentrating when taking the pills. If taken improperly, sleeping pills could even cause death.
If sleeping pills are taken an inappropriate time, they may also pose safety risks. Taking sleeping pills and then driving could lead to a serious or fatal accident. The medications may also cause a scary phenomenon called parasomnia, which is when you conduct odd behavior while asleep, similar to sleepwalking.
Finally, sleeping pills are not a long-term solution for problems like insomnia. Long-term sleeping pill use may actually interfere with sleep, so it is not the ideal route for someone struggling with chronic sleep troubles.
How to naturally improve sleep
In general, people faced with an insomnia problem should try other methods before speaking with a doctor about sleeping pills. However, even then, they should be taken on a very short-term basis or sporadically.
Instead, there are many options when it comes to naturally improving your sleep. Implementing some of these methods into your daily routine may drastically increase the quality and quantity of sleep you’re getting each night.
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule: First and foremost, you should try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule that builds in an adequate number of sleeping hours every night. Your body’s systems are dictated by something called a circadian rhythm, which runs on a 24-hour internal clock. By sticking to the same sleep schedule night after night, your body is able to operate efficiently. If you’re staying up very late one night and hitting the pillow early the next, you could throw off your circadian rhythm and mess up your sleep routine.
- Build the right sleeping environment: Where and how you sleep are just as important as when! Examine your bedroom and see if things in your environment could be interrupting your sleep, including lights, loud noises, excessive heat or disruptive pets. Try to mitigate these environmental problems to create a peaceful, dark and cool place where you can get great rest.
- Take melatonin: Melatonin, a hormone your body naturally produces, helps to regulate your sleep patterns. Melatonin production is stalled when you are exposed to light during the day and should begin making you sleepy when it is produced at night. Things like blue light from electronic devices can prevent melatonin production, which is why it’s recommended that you limit electronic exposure before bed. However, sometimes your body just doesn’t produce enough melatonin naturally, so taking melatonin supplements or other natural sleep aids with melatonin may help make up for that and help you sleep.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: A short-term form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective at treating insomnia. During therapy, you may learn new sleeping habits and work through the potential causes of your insomnia to identify solutions that will help you sleep. Some therapists also use relaxation therapy to help you reduce stress and sleep better.
If you’re currently taking sleeping pills, don’t quit them suddenly! It’s best to wean yourself off them gradually to prevent significant side effects. Once you’re off them, see if any of these natural tips help solve your insomnia for the long term.