Because of the high prevalence of chronic insomnia, approximately 15% of the adult population, hypnotics, i.e. sleeping pills, are among the most commonly prescribed medications. If properly used, sleeping pills are a safe and effective way to promote sleep and enhance daytime functioning and sense of well-being for patients with insomnia. Here are a few important things to keep in mind if your doctor prescribes a hypnotic.
Since medications are not absorbed through the stomach lining, hypnotics should be taken immediately prior to bed on an empty stomach. If you have food in the stomach when you take the sleeping pill, it will remain in the stomach until the food is processed and emptied into the small intestine. Depending upon the size and composition of the meal, approximately three hours are needed for the stomach to empty itself. Bedtime should immediately follow taking the medication. Not adhering to this instruction is likely the single most frequent reason that patients report that sleeping pills do not work consistently.
Another mistake regarding taking hypnotics is waiting until you feel sleepy before going to bed after having taken the medicine. Doing this can result in extremely undesirable events from waking behaviors that are invariably associated with amnesia (memory loss) while under the influence of these medications. Furthermore, one could do something rather “out of character” or even dangerous. As such it’s probably a good idea to inform your spouse/partner if you are taking a hypnotic.
It’s best that hypnotic medications be taken at the same time every night. Do not take a sleeping pill if there is a reasonable likelihood that you are going to be awakened while the medication is "on board" e.g. doctor on-call, fireman, mothers with newborns, etc. Do not take these medications during plane flights. Of course, none of these medications should be mixed with alcohol.
How long these medications may be taken safely is a subject of some discussion. There are clinical studies which indicate safety of use for as long as two years. Most hypnotics have been approved for a short period of time, generally on the order of the few weeks, but there are many patients who have taken these drugs safely for a number of years. The length of the use should be based on the patient's clinical response, clinical circumstances and the presence of adverse events.
Many patients are concerned that they may become addicted to sleeping pills, an unlikely occurrence which may be understood by clarifying the important differences between addiction and dependence. Dependence, in the context of medication usage, predicates that the person taking the medication feels better, functions better and/or has better health and longevity as a result of such use compared to non-usage.
By contrast addiction is characterized by a repeated behavior that leads to impaired functioning and/or health. The use of hypnotic medications has not resulted in this type of impairment. On the other hand, some patients may be dependent on hypnotic medications to improve their sleep and, thereby, their daytime functioning. Depending on one's point of view, this dependence may or may not be a bad thing.
Sleeping pills, when taken as directed by a physician, can allow people to obtain quality sleep that they may not have had otherwise. If you have any questions about hypnotics or have problems with your sleep, please call 4BetterSleep Center – one of the most comprehensive sleep disorder treatment centers in Texas. Let 4BetterSleep put your sleep problems to bed.
P. Terrence Moore, M.D.
4Better Sleep Centers
Wake Up to Life Again
8722 Greenville Ave #102
Dallas, Texas 75243