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Taking Medications for Sleep - Do They Work?

Dr. Joti Samra

April 03, 2020

Resiliency

Taking Medications for Sleep – Do They Work?

Do you struggle with sleep difficulties? Too much on your mind or too much on the go? This is a common problem in the fast-paced world we are living in. Many people are plagued with stress and worry thoughts that make it difficult to fall asleep. Have you used or considered using sleep medication to help you sleep? Many of us have because it seems like a simple and easy solution to our challenges. 

But are medications for sleep really a good solution?

Should you take sleeping pills?

Sleep medication, both prescription and non-prescription, should only be used in conjunction with making lifestyle changes and should only be used intermittently, for a short duration of approximately 5-10 days.

 More extended use leads to drug tolerance, dependence, withdrawal effects, side effects, and rebound insomnia (where sleep problems after medication cessation become worse than they were prior to taking medications). 

When taking sleep medications, it’s important to note that you should never mix them with alcohol, and you should always ensure you have allowed for at least 7-8 hours to sleep after taking medication, as it can affect your ability to function the next day.

What about melatonin? 

I’m sure you’re thinking ‘what about melatonin? It is natural isn’t it?’ Yes, melatonin is the key hormone that increases sleepiness. About 50% of people with sleep problems can benefit from up to 3mg of melatonin, taken 0.5 to 1.0 hours before bedtime.  

But, just because melatonin is a natural hormone doesn’t mean it should be used regularly. Melatonin can cause some side effects including:

  • headache
  • short-term feelings of depression
  • daytime sleepiness
  • dizziness
  • stomach cramps
  • irritability

It can also interact with other medications. So, the answer to the question should you take sleeping pills? It should also be used sparingly and in conjunction with lifestyle changes, good sleep hygiene, and CBT.

Cognitive-behavioural treatment (CBT) is the most effective treatment for sleep problems, as well as associated mood and worry or anxiety issues, all of which commonly impact our ability to sleep. It may also be helpful to talk to your family physician to ensure there are no other underlying issues that may be impacting your sleep. 

Read more about how anxiety and worry thoughts impact our ability to sleep including tips on how to manage these in our other article. But if you’re still struggling with sleep difficulties, sign up for a video consultation with a counsellor at Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych & Associates.

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