Over the course of a year, over one-half of the U.S. population will have difficulty falling asleep. About 33% of the population experiences insomnia on a regular basis with 17% of the population claiming that insomnia is a major problem in their lives. Many use over-the-counter sedative medications to combat insomnia, while others seek stronger prescription medications from their physicians. Each year up to 12.5% of adults in the U.S. receive prescriptions for drugs to help them sleep. These drugs are the sedative-hypnotic drugs such as:
- alprazolam (Alprazolam, Xanax)
- chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- diazepam (Valium)
- eszopiclone (Lunesta)
- flurazepam (Dalmane)
- quazepam (Doral)
- ramelteon (Rozerem)
- temazepam (Restoril)
- triazolam (Halcion)
- zaleplon (Sonata)
- zolpidem tartrate (Ambien,Edluar, Intermezzo, and Zolpimist)
All of these drugs are associated with significant risks. Problems with these drugs include the fact that most are highly addictive and very poor candidates for long-term use. Common side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, and impaired coordination. It is important not to drive or engage in any potentially dangerous activities while on these drugs. Alcohol should never be consumed with these drugs and could be fatal.
The most serious side effects of the conventional sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs relate to their effects on memory and behavior. Because these drugs act in a powerful manner on brain chemistry, significant changes in brain function and behavior can occur including an increased risk for dementia. Severe memory impairment and amnesia of events can also occur, as well as nervousness, confusion, hallucinations, bizarre behavior, extreme irritability and aggressiveness. They have also been shown to increase feelings of depression, including suicidal thinking.
Numerous population-based studies have also found that regular use of sleeping pills increases early mortality risk. Some of these studies have found that the use of sleeping pills predicted an increased risk of death from cancer. But, the strongest explanation for the increased risk of mortality with sleeping pill use is that it is associated with an increased frequency of depression. Considerable evidence shows that depression is also associated with an increased risk for an early death.