Sleeping Pills Vs Natural Sleeping Aids – A Comparison
How many sleepless nights have you spent stressing about bills or work, or thinking about the kids or life? It almost comes naturally to finally reach for that bottle of sleeping pills, because you want some shut-eye. But, sleeping aids and sleeping pills aren’t safe if used for long periods of time.
Many come with risks that rarely outweigh their benefits. So, what can you use as a sleep aid that doesn’t come with as many safety concerns and side effects as common sleep medications? Can you treat insomnia in some way other than popping a pill? Yes, you can. Learn about some natural sleeping aids that work wonders.
Risks & Side Effects of Prescription Sleeping Pills
Every prescription sleeping pills on the market have side effects. They vary, depending on the dosage, the particular drug itself and the amount of time it stays in your system. Some of the most common side effects of these sleep aids include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Rebound insomnia
- Dry mouth
- Aching muscles
- Drowsiness the next day
Types of Prescription Sleeping Pills
Sedative-hypnotics are the classification for several types of prescription sleeping pills. They slow the nervous system down by working on the brain’s receptors. Some induce sleep; others make you stay asleep. Some stay in your system longer, and some are more habit forming.
Benzodiazepine Sedative Hypnotics
The oldest commonly used a class of sleep medications are Benzodiazepines. It has a higher dependency risk than other insomnia sedative hypnotics, and are controlled substances.
Some of the disadvantages of Benzodiazepines are:
- Carries risks of both psychological and physical dependence after taking for a period
- Loses effectiveness when used nightly over a period, as tolerance builds up
- Diminishes the quality of sleep, so you reach dream sleep and deep sleep less and less
- Hangover effect may occur the next day, with drowsiness and cognitive slowing
- Insomnia comes right back after stopping use of these sleeping pills
Non-Benzodiazepine Sedative Hypnotics
Some newer sleeping medications don’t contain benzodiazepine but affect the same area of the brain. There are fewer side effects and dependency risks but are still controllable substances. Being newer, no one knows their long-term effects yet. But, many consider them ineffective for helping them sleep well.
Some of the side effects of non-benzodiazepine include:
- High risk of morning drowsiness
- Developing a tolerance
- Difficulty breathing
- Hard time swallowing
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lethal actions
Over-the-Counter Sleeping Aids & Sleeping Pills
The primary active ingredient in standard OTC (over-the-counter) sleeping pills is an antihistamine, which causes drowsiness.
Two of the most common OTC sleeping drugs are:
- Doxylamine: used by Nighttime Sleep Aid and Unisom
- Diphenhydramine: found in Compiz, Sleepinal, Sominex, Nytol (and Benadryl)
Common Side Effects of OTC Sleeping Aids & Sleeping Pills
Just like with prescription sleep medications, OTC sleeping aids have side effects as well. Here are some of the most common:
- Next-day drowsiness
- Next day hangover effect
- Feeling off balance
- Blurred vision
- Urinary retention
- Dry throat and mouth
Natural Sleeping Aids: Dietary & Herbal Supplements
There are numerous sleep supplements with the word “natural” on the label. These drugs do not fall under FDA regulations for quality, safety, truth in labeling or effectiveness. So, a consumer who uses them does so at their risks.
The following herbal and dietary supplements have a trustworthy amount of research backing up their insomnia treatment results:
- Valerian – This is a sedating herb used for treating anxiety and insomnia since 2nd Century A.D. It’s believed to raise GABA levels, the calming chemical in the brain. Valerian is not habit forming and seems safe research shows. Recommended: Take once a day for two or more weeks.
- Melatonin – A naturally occurring hormone, Melatonin increases during night hours. That’s because darkness triggers it, and morning light suppresses it. The herbal form is better at treating sleep issues caused by shift work or jet lag than treating sleep disorders. Recommended: For minimal next-day drowsiness and side effects, take lower doses.
- Chamomile – Some people have pollen or plant allergies, which causes allergic reactions to chamomile tea. For those who don’t, it acts as a gentle sedative. Recommended: Boil water in kettle/pot, add 2-3 chamomile tea bags, cover with lid and brew about 10 minutes.
- Tryptophan – This amino acid helps in the forming of serotonin, a brain substance that tells your body it’s time for sleep. The body turns the herbal form, L-tryptophan, into serotonin. Studies show it helps some users fall asleep faster but seems inconsistent.
- Kava – Although it falls under the natural sleeping aid category, you should only take Kava under a doctor’s close supervision. It may help with insomnia related to stress. But, it can cause damage to your liver.
Healthy Habits are Better Than Sleeping Pills
Research shows that living a healthy lifestyle, and changing sleeping habits are the best treatments for insomnia. Sleeping aids and medications are short-term remedies only. Environmental and behavioral changes lead to long-term positive results. And, there are no risks of dependence or other side effects.
Relaxation Techniques for a Better Night’s Sleep
Some relaxation techniques may help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer. Plus, there are no side effects or risks:
- Start a Relaxing Bedtime Routine – Lower the light to boost your melatonin naturally, Then, focus on something soothing and quiet, like gentle yoga or soft music before bedtime.
- Deep Breathing – Close your eyes and take in slow, deep breaths, through your nose, then, slowly out your mouth. Make each breath deeper than the previous, and each exhale longer than the previous.
- Good Some Exercise – Research shows that those who exercise during the day, sleep better at night. Working out increases body temperature significantly. A few hours later, this causes a significant drop, making falling asleep easier.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy VS Sleeping Pills
Negative thoughts, worries, and frustration are primary causes of sleep issues at night. One form of psychology, known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), treats these problems without the use of sleeping pills. CBT modifies the behavior leading to the lack of sleep, generally destructive or dysfunctional emotions, thoughts and behavioral patterns.
Instead of taking sleeping pills, try cognitive behavior therapy on yourself. Change your before-bedtime behavior and the things you think about that stop you from sleeping at night. CBT also helps you develop better lifestyle habits and relaxation skills for improved sleeping patterns.
Harvard Medical School conducted a study recently. The results show that adopting better sleeping habits, doing nightly relaxation exercises and other cognitive behavior therapy is more effective for treating chronic insomnia than sleeping pills. CBT helped participants fall asleep faster and maintain a deep sleep longer. Plus, a year after the end of the treatment, many still experienced these benefits.