If you suffer from insomnia and have apparently already tried everything in the field of relaxation techniques and natural sleep aids, sooner or later you will deal with the topic of sleeping pills.
The use of medication to artificially help sleep on the jumps or to “trick” the sleep disorder is not without controversy. Basically, ideally, pharmaceuticals should only be prescribed for the treatment of the underlying disease (cause of the sleep disorder). So drugs that z. B. relieve depression, anxiety, or pain problems.
In today’s ElysiumCentre article, we take a closer look at the world of sleep pills, introduce different groups of sleep pills and provide important information and background information on the correct use of sleep pills.
Introduction to the world of sleeping pills
Sleep pills in the strict sense of the word are also known as hypnotics.
Basically, sleeping pills can be divided into two groups:
- Sleeping aid based on natural substances
- Sleeping aid based on synthetic substances
For both groups, you should definitely speak to your pharmacist or doctor before taking them. With the use of chemical sleeping pills, there are usually special risks that we will deal with separately elsewhere.
In today’s article, we limit ourselves to synthetic drugs for sleep promotion.
In the field of synthetic sleeping pills, one must once again make a distinction between non-prescription and prescription-only drugs. The drugs to promote sleep or to temporarily bypass the sleep disorder, which is available in pharmacies without a prescription, should therefore not be underestimated. In this context, we recommend reading our summary on antihistamines.
What types of sleeping pills are there?
In the field of synthetic sleeping pills there are the following groups:
- Non-benzodiazepines or Z-substances
- Chloral hydrate
In the past, benzodiazepines were very often prescribed for problems with falling asleep and staying asleep. When it comes to benzodiazepines, a distinction is made between so-called tranquilizers (sedatives) and real sleeping pills. The active ingredients diazepam, Lorazepam, Alprazolam, and Clonazepam are included in the group of tranquilizers. Among the real sleeping pills among the benzodiazepines, the active ingredients Alprazolam or Clonazepam should be mentioned.
The tranquilizers have an anxiolytic and relaxing effect. Therefore, taking tranquilizers only helps you fall asleep better. The intake of a benzodiazepine active ingredient from the group of sleeping pills, on the other hand, ensures a direct induction of sleep. There are no calming processes in the body.
Many of the substances belonging to the benzodiazepines have a longer half-life – that is, they are only slowly broken down in the body. As a result, the remedies continue to work the next day, which is why people who have come through the night with benzodiazepines often feel drowsy, have difficulty concentrating and orientation problems, and are confused. In this context, one speaks of a hangover.
Benzodiazepines are highly addictive. Doctors, therefore, rely on interval therapy, where an intake that is limited to a maximum of three weeks is followed by an equally long intake break. If necessary, medication can then be taken for another three weeks. To prevent addiction, it can also make sense not to take the benzodiazepines every day, but only to take them for a few days if necessary and then pause them again.
Non-benzodiazepines or Z-substances
The Z-substances are also known as non-benzodiazepines or non-benzodiazepines. In terms of their nature and effect, however, they are very similar to benzodiazepines.
The active ingredients from the area of the Z-substances zaleplon, zolpidem, and zopiclone have been established for many years, but are newer than most benzodiazepines.
The side effects of the Z-substances should be lower than those of the benzodiazepines. The risk of developing addiction should also be reduced. – Nevertheless, sleeping pills from the group of Z-substances should not be used for long-term therapy in the treatment of sleep disorders.
Chloral hydrate is the first synthetically produced sleep aid. The active ingredient reduces the release of a certain messenger substance in the brain, which has a dampening effect.
The intake of chloral hydrate should not exceed a period of 14 days because the organism gets used to the substance very quickly. Long-term use can lead to dangerous addiction, and even personality changes can occur.
The side effects of chloral hydrate sleeping pills include hangover effects, nausea, or anxiety.
When it comes to antidepressants, there are various drugs that can have a mood-enhancing, stimulating, or depressing effect. Aponal or Sinquan are z. B. Drugs from the field of antidepressants that contain the active ingredient doxepin. Another example is the antidepressant Tolvi with the active ingredient mianserin.
As the name suggests, antidepressants are used to treat depression. However, since sleep disorders are often one of the side effects of depression or can even be traced back to it, treating the sleep disorder by administering a suitable antidepressant can make sense.
The active ingredients in antidepressants are usually only broken down very slowly by the body. In addition, serious side effects can be associated with ingestion. – In this context cardiac arrhythmias, changes in blood pressure, sweating, tremors, dizziness, dry mouth, problems with urination, or visual disturbances should be mentioned.
Psychoses are treated with neuroleptics. The effects of these drugs also include a calming effect, which is why they can also be used in low doses to improve sleep.
However, neuroleptics should not be taken by mentally healthy people to treat a sleep disorder. Serious side effects such as cardiovascular disorders, blood formation disorders, skin rashes, or tremors can occur.
Antihistamines are drugs that are actually taken to treat allergies. However, they have the side effect that they make you tired (sedative effect), which is why they can also be used as sleeping pills. The active ingredients in the field of antihistamines include diphenhydramine and doxylamine.
Compared to the other sleeping pills, antihistamines are available in pharmacies without a prescription. In addition, the addiction potential is also significantly lower.
Side effects of antihistamines can include dry mouth, vision problems, constipation, and, under certain circumstances, disorientation and confusion.
For the sake of completeness, this list of synthetic sleeping pills also includes melatonin. Melatonin is our body’s own sleep hormone and is also available as a synthetically produced drug. In the US, artificially produced melatonin is a prescription drug, while it is often available for sale abroad.
It is recommended to take melatonin as a sleep aid, especially in the treatment of jet lag-related sleep disorders or sleep problems in old age
What should be considered when taking sleeping pills?
Sleeping pills serve – as already mentioned – only to relieve symptoms and should therefore only be taken rarely and, if then, only for a limited period of time.
When taking sleeping pills, one must pay attention to the following:
- Dosage (how much of the drug should be taken?)
- Absorption rate (how much time elapses from ingestion to onset of effects?)
- Half-life (how long does the drug stay in the body?)
- Duration of intake (how long should the drug be taken?)
It is particularly important to look at the half-life of the chosen sleeping pill because drugs with a long half-life can still be detected in the body the next day and can cause side effects such as fatigue. In this context, one speaks of aftereffects or hangovers.
Sleep pills that have an active ingredient with a short half-life are broken down by the body until the next day. However, if this type of medication is abruptly discontinued after a few days of taking the sleeping pill, so-called rebound insomnia can occur.
What does the ideal sleep aid look like?
The ideal drug for the treatment of sleep disorders or sleeping pills is characterized by an immediate effect and an accelerated process of falling asleep. In addition, the different stages of sleep are not affected by the medicine.
The person who has taken the sleeping pill also remains receptive to important external stimuli such as the ringing of the alarm clock or the child’s crying and is able to react to them.
The respiratory process, memory, and coordination skills (motor, organic) are not impaired.
In addition, there are no after-effects associated with the ideal sleep aid, so that there is no untypical tiredness the next day.
Since the person taking it does not develop any tolerance to the sleeping pill, the dosage does not have to be adjusted. In addition, there are no withdrawal symptoms after stopping the drug.
Unfortunately, such an ideal sleeping aid has not yet been developed. However, the “profile” can be useful when it comes to assessing the dangers of sleeping pills.
How dangerous are sleeping pills?
There are significant side effects and after-effects associated with the use of many sleeping pills. We have already informed you about this at various points in this article. Furthermore, there is a risk of developing dependency that should not be underestimated with many drugs for improving, promoting, and inducing sleep.