How Do Tranquilizers Really Impact Sleep? (latest research)
Sleep can be hard to come by at times. For some of us, we lie awake a little longer than we ought to at night, kept up by anxieties and stresses. For others, insomnia can become a crippling part of life.
There are many sleeping pills available, either over-the-counter or prescription, that we are told can send us off into a deep sleep each night. As as result, thousands of people take them nightly without considering the risks of side effects and dependency.
Research into sleep medication and tranquilizers seems to be attempting to find a better, safer solution but, with every new drug that becomes available, there are new concerns for patients. Many tranquilizers are dangerous and highly addictive if overused. For example, the withdrawal side effects of Xanax and other benzos can be downright deadly.
It seems that no matter what we take to cure our sleep disorders, we run the risk of creating new ones.
At the very best, our sleep can become more disturbed and we might get the odd nightmare; at the worst, we may have to deal with insomnia, the dangerous effects of parasomnias or the terrifying effect of sleep paralysis.
Xanax and Insomnia
This is the biggest concern for many people for two simple reasons: benzodiazepines, like Xanax, are now considered more dangerous than ever and insomnia is the complete opposite effect the users are aiming for. Benzodiazepines are the last resort for many doctors and patients because of the potential for addiction and numerous side effects.
While drowsiness may be welcomed by all those trying to fall asleep, the risks of irritability, mood disorders are less appealing to those with bad sleep patterns. Add the risk of insomnia into the mix and it is a recipe for disaster.
Users have to remember that these benzodiazepines – which also include Valium and Ativan – are generally seen as anti-anxiety drugs that happen to help people get to sleep. What most patients don’t realize is that these substances are so powerful that drowsiness is just the start. Experts, like those at the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center, Ohio, are keen to highlight the issue of sleep architecture.
There are different stages that they body goes through until waking and these need to happen for restful, undisturbed sleep. Xanax has the ability to change this architecture and actually limits the amount of time spent in the deepest stages. This impact, combined with the long half-life of the drug, means that Xanax can have a profoundly negative effect on sleep patterns that is felt long into the following day. With prolonged use, the damage can be significant and insomnia can take hold.
Ambien and Parasomnias
The strength of these drugs and the ongoing reports of negative effects have led researchers to look into new drugs with alternative actions and reactions – ones that won’t have such a deep and long-term effect on sleep. A new category of Z drugs was created with much shorter half-lives, with the hope that the “hangover” effects of tranquilizers like Xanax would be eliminated.
There are a number of sleeping pills in this category – such as Lunesta and Sonata – but the one that gets the most press has to be Ambien. This is the drug of choice for many people suffering from no sleep, and for celebrities, but its popularity may mask its dangerous side. Whether users realize it or not, Ambien has strong links to parasomnias. This means sleepwalking, sleep-driving and other strange behaviors that can occur while asleep.
Sleepwalking and sleep-driving can be dangerous enough but many accidents and crimes have been reported that occurred while the defendant was dealing with parasomnia. In these situations, the individual has no control over their actions and no memory of the event, even if they have ended up killing someone.
Car accidents, violent crimes and accidental deaths have been defended under what is known as the “Ambien defense”. One doctor, Dr. Cramer Bornemann, once claimed to have dealt with more than 300 criminal cases of violent crime and sleep disorders and a third involved the use of sleeping pills. Ambien was singled out by name.
Belsomra and sleep paralysis
The move to drugs with shorter half-lives was not a great success. Drug companies may be shifting a lot of bottles of these popular drugs but the potential implications for bad sleep aren’t much better. A more recent development was to develop drugs that targeted a chemical in the brains that are linked to wakefulness – orexin. Belsomra is one of these new drugs and has been cleared by the FDA due to its potential and its safety; the problem is that it too has a worrying potential effect on sleep.
A small study by Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth looked into the potential of this new tranquilizer and the side effects reported by the subjects – the results were not all that encouraging. The group taking the drug did have a better night’s sleep than the placebo group, although they only slept for an average of 16 minutes longer and fell asleep an average of 6 minutes faster. 16 minutes isn’t much for those dealing with bad sleep patterns but the results were made worse by the reported side effects.
The Belsomra group were more drowsy the following day and some reported sleep paralysis. This phenomenon, where sufferers feel they cannot move while falling asleep, has been reported in other trials too and is a major concern when recommending this new type of sleeping pill to anyone suffering from sleep disorders or anxiety.
Are there any sleeping pills that won’t lead to bad sleep and long-term medical issues?
There are different opinions when it comes to recommending sleeping pills. Some would say to take these pills only as recommended by a doctor and when truly necessary to lessen the risks of long-term damage and addition. Others, on the other hand, advocate a complete boycott of these dangerous tranquilizers, favoring more natural approaches like melatonin supplements instead.
The bottom line is, that if you do reach for a sleeping pill for a quick fix solution to a lack of sleep, it could have much deeper implications on your sleep architecture and ongoing health than you realize. A reliance on Xanax could take you in the complete opposite direction with insomnia and drowsiness in the day, Ambien could have you doing things at night without your knowledge and Belsomra could give you a few more minutes sleep for the cost of a little paralysis.