Five Sleeping Pill Myths

The Truth About Sleeping Pills

It’s 2 a.m. and, as on so many other nights, you can’t fall asleep. You take a sleeping pill, but nothing happens. What’s wrong?

To derive the greatest benefit from sleeping pills, you must use them correctly — and separate myth from fact, says Douglas Moul, MD, a sleep psychiatrist at Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center.

Here are five common myths about sleeping pills — and the facts behind them:

Myth 1: Sleeping pills are supposed to knock you out.

Fact: Sleeping pills only help you get to sleep. A sleeping pill should be taken when you are getting a little sleepy to facilitate this process. “If it is taken before you start to wind down, you will only get angry and frustrated, and this will defeat the pill,” says Dr. Moul.

Myth 2: Sleeping pills are a long-term solution.

Fact: Sleeping pills may not work if they are taken nightly. It depends upon the person.

Myth 3: If a sleeping pill stops working, all you have to do is ‘up’ the dose.

Fact: If your sleeping pill stops working, increasing the dose may not make it work.

Myth 4: Sleeping pills are addictive.

Fact: Addiction to sleeping pills is rare unless people already have substance abuse problems.

Myth 5: Choosing the right sleeping pill is easy.

Fact: Finding the right medicine you need to combat chronic insomnia may take time. “Be patient and don’t get upset if the first medication doesn’t work. You may have to try many different medications to find one that offers stable benefits without intolerable side effects,” says Dr. Moul.

In addition, keep these three tips in mind, he says:

  1. Decrease mental activity at bedtime. An active mind will keep wakefulness going, so reserve your bed for sleep and sex. If you are awake in bed for an extended time, get up and do something boring elsewhere. “This tactic helps lots of people,” says Dr. Moul.
  2. Say ‘no’ to naps. Good, deep sleep requires a buildup of wakefulness. The sleep homeostatic process builds up slowly with continuous wakefulness, but goes away rapidly if one sleeps at all. Use daytime wakefulness to increase the pressure to sleep at nighttime. Sneaking naps during the day will dissipate that homeostatic sleep pressure available at bedtime.
  3. Aim for improved — not perfect — sleep. Some wakefulness at night is normal — being asleep is not like being in a coma. If you try good sleep behaviors every night for three weeks and still have insomnia, talk with your doctor. You may need extra help: coaching from your sleep doctor or a sleep psychologist, or sleep medications.

The irony about insomnia is that the harder you work at it, the worse it gets. “Get out of the way,” says Dr. Moul, and let natural forces take over. “It is better to try good sleep behavior approaches first. If you work against the natural sleep process, then sleeping pills won’t help you,” says Dr. Moul.

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