Is Sleep So Important?
Whether you have no problem keeping a healthy and consistent sleeping schedule or not, sleep is much more than a mere break from your daytime life. Without sleep and its regenerative processes, your brain would become dysfunctional until you died. Sleep is complex, consisting of many cycles of REM-sleep and non-REM sleep.
Our knowledge of everything that happens during sleep, however, is still not completely understood, but the science of sleep medicine has made great strides recently:
- Memory: sleep is essential for memory consolidation, for assigning emotions to memories and incorporating other data—sights, smells, things heard, etc.—to the memories of the day which are prioritized as to which short-term memories are assigned to your long-term memory.
- Brainwashing: the recent discovery of a lymphatic system that drains debris from around “glia” nerve cells that has accumulated during the day is essential for alertness.
- Rest and recovery: muscles and organ systems undergo the wear-and-tear of normal daytime function, so the quiet times of sleep each day allow for repair and rebalancing of the different rhythms and hormonal cycles.
Sleeping Pills—Why You Started Them
With the importance of sleep well-established, sleep dysfunction is a condition that warrants treatment. Normal sleep patterns, what is called “sleep hygiene,” has been proven essential in the therapy used for treating all other medical, mental, hormonal, and psychological conditions.
Your body is fairly flexible, so it can adjust to temporary periods of sleep dysfunction. But when these periods are not temporary, sleeping pill can be used in a rational plan of getting you back on track for good sleep hygiene.
What Are Sleeping Pills?
Sleeping pills are medications that induce and/or maintain sleep cycles, and thus fall into the category called “hypnotics.” There are hypnotics that are prescribed, such as Ambien, and those that are “over-the-counter.” Hypnotics are not just pills and syrups, however. Alcoholic beverages and illicit drugs can also serve as hypnotics, but with the disadvantage of not being associated with proper medical surveillance by a health care professional.
Are Sleeping Pills Dangerous?
Proper medical supervision will minimize any potential harm, but you must know that any medication can do anything to anybody. Side effects can mean anything from an allergic reaction to—in the case of sleeping pills—even weird things, like sleepwalking. This is why teaming up with your healthcare professional is necessary.
What Is the Usual Course of Treatment for Sleeping Disorders That Benefit from Sleeping Pills?
When sleep dysfunction begins to interfere with one’s quality of life (and falling asleep at the wheel qualifies!), it’s time for proper medical evaluation and treatment. A “sleep study” can determine where the problem lies, identifying sleep apnea, insomnia, hyperarousal (extremely light sleeper or too easily awakened), imbalance among the sleep cycles, and even things like restless leg syndrome.
Once diagnosed, the usual course of treatment first centers on:
- How to get you your proper rest, which is where prescribed hypnotics come in.More importantly, however, is the second strategy—
- How to get you to achieve good sleep hygiene without hypnotics.
Each treatment must include both of these strategies.
How Much Is Too Much? How Can You Tell?
There are many articles that have bullet-lists on the signs and symptoms of being dependent on sleeping pills, but the single characteristic that is universal is simply not getting off of them or having any interest in getting off of them. In this rut, you never progress to the second stage of therapy—how to achieve good hygiene without hypnotics.
Certainly, a person who has no interest in achieving sleep hygiene without getting off of his or her hypnotics has gone too far. That is, what qualifies as “too much” is when the first phase of treatment continues indefinitely, and approached the area of substance abuse. This will manifest as your feeling you cannot get to sleep without sleeping pills. Also, depending on the hypnotic, there is the peril of actual dependence, in which not only can you not get to sleep without a sleeping pill, but you experience bad effects without them. Signs of sleeping pill addiction begin with dependence, but addiction becomes the reality when you borrow others’ pills or try to get prescriptions filled too early or even illegally.
What You Can Do for Sleeping Pill Dependence
Dependence and addiction are medical conditions that can be treated by specialists. First, as in any dependent/addictive situation, you must recognize the problem; then address the problem by getting proper help. There are many options available to you, administered by healthcare professionals.
Dependence and addiction are abnormal medical conditions that warrant treatment themselves. We are all designed to work well without external substances, but needing something to sleep normally is not the same as needing insulin for diabetes. In diabetes, insulin is given to replace missing diabetes; in sleep disorders, sleeping pills are prescribed to reset an equilibrium designed to balance without them. If you use sleeping pills beyond the first phase of “retraining” your circadian rhythm, you are cheating the system. As we all know, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.
Author Bio: Dr. Gerard M. DiLeo is a Certified Life Care Planner (CLCP), medical doctor, and published medical author at McGraw-Hill. He has contributed health articles to newspapers and regional magazines for over 30 years, and is part of the medical writing team here at SubstanceAbuse.com
During his practicing medical career, Dr. DiLeo worked at the University of South California (USF) as the Director of Pelvic Pain. At USF Dr.DiLeo was part of a team of inventors who created the electronic catheter stethoscope (eCath). He has also worked in private practice, achieving the esteemed position of Chief-of-Staff twice.
Treating patients in the field of pelvic pain, Dr. DiLeo regularly experienced the challenges surrounding chronic pain management, and the dependence caused by prescription opioids. It is for that reason that he has advocated for better pain management practices, including setting out protocols to protect patients who are at risk of addiction, when they are treated for pelvic pain.
Outside of the hospital, Dr. DiLeo went on to teach his pain management insight to attending medical staff, medical students, and residents, in a teaching position he maintained for five years. Today he write for professionals, as he hopes to raise awareness to prescribing practices through his long career in pelvic pain management.
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