Few things are as precious to overall health and wellness than getting a good night’s sleep, but is turning to sleeping pills worth the risk?
Ambien and its generic counterpart Zolpidem are linked to a variety of nighttime activities patients have no memory of, including preparing food in the kitchen, making phone calls, driving and even having sex, according to the Federal Drug Administration.
Most patients prescribed drugs like Ambien use them without reporting negative side effects, but there are still concerns, says Dr. Yelena Tumashova, a sleep medicine specialist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
Doctors generally are reluctant to prescribe sleeping pills due to the risk of addiction and side effects, she says.
For those who are suffering from long-term sleeplessness, consider visiting a sleep specialist, which may require a referral based on individual insurance plans. Some root causes of sleep problems, such as sleep apnea, can be also pre-screened with online questionnaires.
Sleeping medicine is intended for short-term use, meaning less than two weeks, and carries risks of addiction when used longer, she says.
“Although Ambien is newer and safer than older sleeping pills, there are still concerns,” Dr. Tumashova says.
As with all prescription sleep medicine, mixing different prescriptions, adding alcohol or taking more than prescribed will impact how the drug affects your brain, increasing the chances of side effects, she says.
“Our brains are highly complicated organs, and can react in unfamiliar, sometimes bizarre, ways when exposed to cocktails of medication and alcohol added to doctor-prescribed medicine,” Dr. Tumashova says.
Additionally, elderly and female patients prescribed sleep drugs generally require more physician monitoring than males and are prescribed a lower dose due to research indicating that the drug takes longer to wear off, which can lead to accidental impaired driving to work, Dr. Tumashova says.
Those suffering from insomnia should try turning to natural options first, rather than medication.
For the occasional sleepless night, Dr. Tumashova recommends switching off all TVs, computers, phones, and tablets, taking a warm shower or drinking herbal tea with chamomile, valerian root or passion flower one hour before the intended bedtime.
Patients who are currently using prescription sleep medicine should talk to their doctor if they have questions, concerns or alarming symptoms, Dr. Tumashova says.
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