Sleeping pill abuse on the rise

Sleeping pill abuse on the rise

Adequate sleep is essential to your health, but many people are taking risky measures in order to get a good night’s rest. According to a recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people are consuming a dangerous amount of prescription sleep aids.

The report found there to be an alarming spike in emergency department visits over the past few years due to overmedication of zolpidem, the active ingredient in popular prescription sleep medications like Ambien. SAMHSA observed trends of zolpidem overmedication, or cases where a patient consumes too much of a prescribed medicine, and found the total number of emergency department visits nearly doubled from just under 22,000 in 2005 and 2006 to more than 42,000 in 2009 and 2010.

The SAMHSA focused their study on overmedication where patients exceeded the prescribed dosage or mixed with other medications, excluding illicit or non-prescribed drugs. The numbers prove that a majority of patients who end up at the hospital are irresponsibly mixing prescription drugs. 57 percent of visits to the emergency department were a result of a patient mixing zolpidem with other anti-anxiety and insomnia medications or narcotic pain relievers.

So do these disturbing statistics mean people should discontinue their use of sleep aids? Dr. Muhammad Hamadeh, a pulmonologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., says no. “When used correctly and temporarily, sleep aids are safe and effective. These pills should only be used for a short period of time when something brings on insomnia, such as stress or anxiety.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders or deprivation, and roughly four percent of adults use prescription sleep aids. Dr. Hamadeh explains that sleeping pills should never be used as a long-term solution as the pill can lose effectiveness over time, which causes the patient to switch to other sleeping aids and create a cycle of dependency.

To rest up without sleep medication, Dr. Hamadeh recommends people practice the following sleep hygiene tips to help fall into a deep slumber:

1)    Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Your internal clock becomes confused when bedtimes regularly fluctuate and your sleep schedule can be thrown off.

2)    Develop sleep rituals: Relax yourself an hour before bedtime with soothing activities and thoughts. Leave any work or frustrations at your bedroom door.

3)    Head into bed only when you are tired: Only lay in bed when you are ready to fall asleep, so your mind only associates your bed with sleep and not work or television time. If you are not sleeping within 20 minutes, move into another room for a relaxing activity until you are ready to fall asleep.

4)    Exercise early and eat lightly: Exercise at least four hours before bedtime as physical activity can raise your body temperature and disrupt the sleep rhythm. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime and always cut caffeine out of your diet before 2 pm.

5)    Never nap: Even if you are tired throughout the day, do not take a nap as your sleep schedule will be affected at night time.

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About the Author

Julie Nakis
Julie Nakis

Julie Nakis, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. She earned her BA in communications from the University of Iowa – Go Hawkeyes! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, exploring the city and cheering on the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks.