Do Sleeping Pills Really Work?

Written by Derek Johnson

Sleeping pills are almost as mainstream as aspirin. However, if you’ve never taken them, you may be wondering whether or not they really work. The answer is: sometimes.

In the market today, there are various types of sleeping pills that treat different sleeping disorders, from insomnia to inability to stay asleep at night. These medications are often referenced under a few different names, including sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. Some of the “lighter” pills are available for purchase over the counter (OTC), such as antihistamine-containing sleep aids and melatonin and valerian supplements,

Those available only through prescription are more powerful than their OTC counterparts and expose users to the risk of addiction or overdose. Prescription sleeping pills can also cause undesirable changes in your sleep pattern, which may lead to sleep and zombie walking. Types of medications requiring a prescription include antidepressants, benzodiazepine, and Ambien, to name a few.

So do these sleeping pills and capsules do the trick? On one hand, the answer is yes, especially the prescription variety. They contain powerful compounds that cause drowsiness. However, prescription sleeping pills are not appropriate as a long-term solution, because they treat a symptom of what’s most likely a bigger problem.

In an interview with The Henry Ford Health System, Meeta Singh, M.D., who is the medical director at the Henry Ford Sleep Center, stated:

“It’s important to determine why you’re not sleeping (or not sleeping well), and whether your issue will respond to medication. But sleeping pills are only a short-term fix (meaning six to 12 months). They’re not meant to be used long-term.”

In fact, sleeping pills are not the preferred first line of treatment for insomnia. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the recommended starting point for dealing with this sleeping disorder that affects millions of adults in the US annually. It is a type of talk therapy that helps patients realize the negative thoughts and actions in their lives so they can better understand how to change them.

That said, CBT is not always available for patients due to lack of CBT practitioners or insurance issues. The result is sleeping pills become the default treatment option.

Although effective in the short run, prescription sleeping pills are not capable of dealing with the actual cause of the sleeplessness. And taking them for an extended period of time can be habit forming and disruptive to natural sleep patterns.


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Derek Johnson

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