Millions of prescriptions are written for sleeping pills each year. Medically, sleeping pills are known as sedatives and hypnotics which includes drugs such as barbiturates, zolpidem, temazepam, eszopiclone, zalephon and antihistamines or diphenhydramine which is found in Benadryl. The two most commonly prescribed sleep medications are benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines.
As many of us have experienced the one off experience, where we do not get enough sleep due to unforseen circumstances. These are merely rare occasions for most people. However there are millions of people all around the world who are constantly having trouble falling asleep and getting enough sleep. In reality, not getting sufficient sleep creates a sleep debt in an individual which is detrimental to health and can make one’s body more prone to all kinds of sicknesses.
The effects of sleeping pills are to reduce alertness in an individual, makes us sleepy, slow reaction times and impair aspects of our motor skills, judgement, memory and intelligence. In summarizing countless studies done on psychological effects of these pills; almost all sleeping pills produce immediate impairments of performance and memory. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that on average, these impairments can affect the individual the following day.
In more extreme cases, sleeping pills have been blamed for strange sleep walking behaviour and in one particular case, the individual under the influence of sleeping drugs has been accused of murder. Depression is another side effect of sleeping pills. Controlled trials of zaleplon, zolpidem, ramelteon and eszoplicone have shown a higher rate of developing depressions among individuals who used these sleeping pills.
Apart from the destructive effects of long term sleep deprivation, studies have outlined the increased risks of illnesses and diseases in people who overuse sleeping pills or continually use them for long periods of time. Risk of cancer such as lymphomas (cancer to the lymph system), prostate, colon and lung cancer have shown to be greater in these individuals than for people who smoke. In fact, for some individuals, the dependency on these drugs becomes so bad that it almost becomes an addiction. This is mainly true for younger people in their 20s and those who work odd hours or shift work.
Although the side effects of sleeping pills may vary among individuals, the underlying health dangers are still prevalent. Sleeping pills may produce different physiological responses in a person’s body upon consumption but the key area that they affect is the brain cells. Harmful side effects include but are not limited to, drowsiness, headaches, respiratory depression, appetite changes, dizziness, short-term memory loss, poor judgement, reduced motor skills, significant weight loss or gain and parasomnia. Parasomnia occurs when an individual has no control over his or her movements and actions (for example, sleep eating or sleep walking).
Long term health issues related to sleeping pills include internal organ damage, withdrawal effects such as irritability or anxiety and death risks. The common denominator for long term usage of most sleeping pills is their “addictiveness”. Once an individual is hooked on these pills, it becomes very difficult to stop taking them. The development of psychological addiction is more common among individuals with prior drug abuse history. Experts have been quick to point out that psychological addiction is also more likely to affect light or moderate alcohol drinkers. Likewise, age is a major contributor for addiction in older individuals.
The underlying concern with sleeping pills, is its acclaimed notoriety especially among the elderly and those who are in poorer health in general. More should be done by health and governing bodies to educate people on the possible dangers of these pills.