According to the CDC, approximately 4% of American adults take prescription sleeping pills regularly. The real number of individuals relying on some form of sleeping pill for help is much higher if you include individuals taking over-the-counter sleeping pills. Sleep is critical to our overall mental, emotional and physical health, so it’s only natural that those who are struggling would reach for assistance.
And yet, sleeping pills do come with some risks. Most people know sleeping pills can be overdosed on, but can they be addictive? And what are the side effects of sleeping pills used regularly? Keep reading for a complete breakdown of the potential dangers of sleeping pill abuse.
What Is a Sleeping Pill?
Sleeping pills, also known as soporific or hypnotic drugs, are a type of psychoactive drug used to help individuals fall asleep. The sleeping pill is a type of sedative often used to treat insomnia and anxiety conditions.
There are many kinds of sleeping pills, and all of them work differently. Some sleeping pills make you feel drowsy, promoting a feeling of sleepiness. Other types of sleeping pills work on receptors in the brain to slow down the nervous system and silence the region of the brain that keeps you alert.
Why People Are Taking Sleeping Pills
Unfortunately, difficulty sleeping is a widespread problem in adults. Approximately 1 in 3 U.S. adults suffers from sleep deprivation (not getting adequate sleep). Additionally, between 50-70 million adults in the United States have a sleep disorder. Those struggling to sleep often feel the negative impacts right away and look for solutions. The CDC states that 1 in 6 adults with a diagnosed sleeping disorder and 1 in 8 adults who have trouble sleeping report using some type of sleep aid.
An adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night to be fully recharged, function well and think clearly. A lack of sleep can lead to:
- Slowed, confused and unclear thinking
- Reduced attention span
- Memory problems
- A decrease in decision-making skills
- Reduced energy
If a person struggles with sleeping issues for an extended period, it can lead to more serious health problems, including:
- Mental health disorders (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder)
- Weight gain and obesity
- Worsened immune function (immunodeficiency)
- Hormonal imbalances
- Cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, heart attack, etc.)
The percentage of people using prescription sleep aids increases with education and age. In general, women are more likely to use prescription sleeping pills than men.
While there are natural sleep aid remedies, many people quickly turn to sleeping pills because they want effective, fast results for their sleeping problems.
Sleeping pills are often divided into two categories: those that help induce sleep and those that help people stay asleep.
Short- and Long-Term Side Effects of Sleeping Pills
While sleeping pills may be incredibly beneficial to some, they come with some risks. The side effects of sleeping pills vary depending on the type of sleeping pill. Each sleeping pill comes with a warning label of potential side effects.
Some of the most common sleeping pill side effects across all brands and types are:
- Appetite changes
- Burning or tingling in hands, feet, arms and legs
- Dry mouth
- Daytime drowsiness
- Stomach issues and gas
- Impaired balance
- Feelings of weakness
- Weird dreams and nightmares
- Memory problems
Of course, prescription sleeping pills are more potent and dangerous than over-the-counter sleeping tablets. Even within the prescription sleeping pill category, some medications are seemingly more dangerous than others. Benzodiazepines, a type of tranquilizer, are sometimes prescribed to treat insomnia. In 2020, there were 12,290 overdose deaths from benzodiazepines in the United States.
Additionally, a 2012 study found that individuals taking hypnotic sleeping pills (Ambien, Valium, Ativan, etc.) had a four times greater risk of death and a 35% higher risk of cancer than individuals not taking these drugs.
Individuals should only take the prescribed amount of sleeping pills to minimize serious side effects and health complications. One study following more than 10,500 patients in the United States with a sleeping pill prescription found that people who took 18-132 doses annually were four times more likely to die by the end of the 2.5-year study. And patients who took more than 132 doses per year were five times more likely to pass than those not taking pills.
Ultimately, every person reacts differently to sleeping pills. Patients should work with their doctors to find the proper prescription dosage. Going above the advised dosage carries a risk of health side effects and death by overdose.
Generally speaking, sleeping pills should only be used on a short-term basis. Sleeping pills are an artificial fix. They may help improve sleep, but they don’t deal with the root issue of what’s causing the person to have sleeping issues. Individuals should do what they can to identify and fix the problem that’s disturbing their sleep to get better without being reliant long-term on medication.
Can You Become Addicted to Sleeping Pills?
Another side effect of sleeping pills is the potential to become addicted. And some sleeping pills have a higher risk of becoming habit-forming (addictive) than others. Benzodiazepines and zolpidem (the active ingredient in Ambien) are two medications known to have habit-forming properties.
Typically, people become dependent on sleeping pills for a restful night’s sleep and find that over time they need to take a larger dose for the same effect. This quickly builds up a tolerance to the medication and can become an addiction, which can be both chemical and behavioral. You start to believe you can’t sleep without sleeping pills, so you take them more and more. As a result, your body becomes chemically reliant and builds up a tolerance, so you experience withdrawal symptoms when you’re not using this sleeping aid.
How To Seek Help for Sleeping Pill Abuse
Sleeping pill abuse isn’t something to ignore. As outlined above, prolonged use of sleeping pills can come with serious side effects and a risk of overdose. Individuals who have a sleeping pill addiction should seek professional help as they’ll need to treat both their addiction and the cause of their sleeping problems. Ultimately, many sleep problems are caused by underlying mental health conditions. Seeking help from a professional rehabilitation treatment center can be the best option, as it can help individuals treat their addiction and sleeping issues simultaneously.
FHE Health Can Help You Sleep Safely Again
Sleeping pill addictions may be common, but they’re dangerous and should be taken seriously. Our rehabilitation center has helped thousands face their mental health and substance abuse problems to live longer, happier lives. Let us help you regain control of your life. Our counselors are on standby 24/7 to take your call and answer any questions you may have. Just call (833) 596-3502.