Should You Use Sleep Aids to Cure Insomnia?
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Should You Use Sleep Aids to Cure Insomnia?

We've all had those nights where we're stressed out about something in our lives or we're nervous about something the next day, and we just can't get to sleep. I've had stretches of 2-3 weeks where I can barely sleep 2 to 3 hours per night during stressful times.

To say the least, this has a big impact on your daily life, and it's very important to find a way to get some rest. I've tried many solutions, from over-the-counter sleeping pills, to prescription drugs, to herbal remedies. Here are my thoughts and advice on each.

OTC sleep aids

These include drugs like Sominex, Tylenol PM or Unisom. Many of these include antihistamines, Seth Stevenson over at Slate, has a good breakdown:

"When it comes to OTC pills, you're basically looking at two options: 1) antihistamines; or 2) herbal remedies. Antihistamines use either diphenhydramine hydrochloride (brands include: Sominex, Compoz, Tylenol PM, and Unisom SleepGels) or doxylamine succinate (Unisom tablets, Equate). The two ingredients are pretty interchangeable. Each inhibits the same neurotransmitter to depress your central nervous system. These antihistamines are the same stuff you might take for allergies, which is why allergy medications make you so drowsy."

In my experience, OTC sleep aids do work, but they have harsh after effects. I tended to wake up drowsy and tired, and the feeling persisted throughout the day. Of the ones I tried, I found Advil PM to be the least harsh, but all of them were so debilitating the next day that I usually stay away from them.

Herbal sleep aids

These include valerian root, chamomile, passion flower, and melatonin. Of these, I've tried melatonin and valerian root.

Melatonin appealed to me because it's a natural hormone already found in our bodies, it's a hormone which regulates our sleep cycle. So the idea is taking it is a way of manually increasing the level of this hormone, making us sleepy. It does work, and works well. However, it had the strange effect of giving me lots of dreams. The effect was noticeable. I usually do dream, but the intensity of my dreams on melatonin were much stronger. So I stopped taking it for this reason.

I then tried valerian root, which is an herb made from Valerian plants in Asia and Europe. It is supposed to work as a sedative, but the reasons behind how it works are still unknown. My personal experience with it is that is has a mild relaxing effect - similar to drinking a warm tea, but it wasn't strong enough to put me to sleep in many cases.

Prescription sleep aids

Now my advice is that you should visit your doctor only if you've tried other means and really have a problem with insomnia. Many of these drugs are addictive, and falling into that trap can make you worse off than where you started.

I've tried both Ambien and Lunesta as sleep aids. Both are supposedly similar in how they work. These sleep aids do work well to put you to sleep - similar in their effectiveness as some of the OTC medicines. The main difference is that the prescription aids have far less after effects. You wake up without that strong drowsy feeling, and feel pretty good the next day.

These pills work so well, in fact, that I started to take them everyday. This was fine for a month or two, but after a while, they started to lose their effectiveness. I then tried to stop taking them to see if I could get back to a normal sleep routine, and I found myself unable to sleep for several days. It was a pretty scary experience.

My advice around using prescription sleep aids is to avoid using them if possible, but if you do use them, do not use them on a regular basis. Use them only on the nights you really cannot sleep, and limit yourself to 2 to 3 times per week. I have found that on this schedule, it is possible to use sleep aids like Ambien and Lunesta for an extended period of time without getting too hooked on them.

Best of luck on your road to a good night's rest!

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Comments (13)

I have a sleep disorder, it's called my 4 yr old son who thinks sleep is not an option. I am not a pill person. I like natural things to heal. My son was recently prescribed Melatonin, which I started to give him only because it is from natural herbs. I last gave it too him approximately 8:p.m. about a week ago. He went to sleep 8:A.M. the next morning. I sometimes think he is from another planet, but I can say it worked great for me when I do get the chance to take it. Your so correct when you say, you can't function without proper sleep. Looking forward to reading more.

Sleep is one of the most important things in the world, I think. Without it I get quite a bit loopy. I find that women especially have trouble sleeping when there's alot on our minds, so I often when I can't sleep I think about penguins. Sounds crazy, I know, but nothing in my life (right now) is associated with penguins and so, I find I drift off pretty quickly. Thanks for the info!

I use Ambien and I just stopped taking them and have noticed that I am completely lost without it. Unfortunately, I think I am addicted to sleep meds I will be going to see my doctor soon.

As always, you must tell your personal doctor what you are taking. My doctor is totally ok with me taking melatonin. It was also okayed for my two hyper granddaughters to take one melatonin about an hour before bedtime. It has worked wonders. They sleep better, therefore, they aren't as cranky. Along with melatonin I also use elavil. It does double duty as an anti-depressant and helps me sleep. Since I have started the elavil/melatonin program I sleep really good and wake up not as cranky as I used to. I used to dread going to sleep because I knew waking up would be such a struggle.

I spend most of my time being sleep deprived! I do not like pills either. Lavender scent is very calming and usually puts me to sleep.

My experience with insomnia has been similar to yours. I like melatonin, but I stopped taking it because I read that high dosages can be bad (I was taking 20 mg a day). Cutting out caffeine almost entirely seems to help most, but that's so hard to do! Glad to hear your new regimen is helping.

excellent share friend

You give valuable info here. I personally prefer herbal remedies. Thanks for sharing.

A good general introduction to the subject!

Crystal, my sleep aid is...ear plugs !

Nice well rounded article. I too had crazy dreams on Melatonin and stopped for that reason. OTC sleep meds made me so jittery that I couldn't relax at all - I can't take any of them and not even things like Nyquil. Weird huh? I don't often have trouble sleeping but on the rare occasion that I have trouble relaxing I fix myself a mug of hot milk with a 1/2 shot of Bailey's Irish Cream and a 1/2 shot of Kahlua. The other thing that helps me at those times is to light a candle (in a safe glass holder) and gaze at the flame.

I would agree that it is best to avoid any kind of sleep aids - great article !

I can't take sleeping pills. It makes me want to sleep all day the next day.