The Problem With Sleeping Pills, Consumer Reports, 5 January 2016
First … the benefits are piddling:
People who took a 15- or 20-milligram dose of Belsomra every night for three months fell asleep just 6 minutes faster on average than those who took a placebo. And those on Belsomra slept on average only 16 minutes longer than people given a placebo.
Merck’s Belsomra is the newest insomnia drug on the market. Older drugs (Lunesta, Sonata, Ambien), the benzodiazepines, and over-the-counter drugs (Advil PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and ZzzQui) are in the same ball park.
Next … the risks:
A study published online in June 2015 by the American Journal of Public Health* found that people prescribed sleeping pills were around twice as likely to be in car crashes as other people. The researchers estimated that people taking sleep drugs were as likely to have a car crash as those driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.
Sleeping pills can pose other dangers, too, including dizziness, falls, and fractures. “These drugs are known to have a hangover effect that impairs coordination and balance into the next day, especially in older adults,” says Ariel Green, M.D., a geriatrician at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Even over-the-counter sleep aids—such as Advil PM, Sominex, and ZzzQuil—pose risks, including daytime drowsiness, confusion, constipation, dry mouth, and problems urinating.
The FDA is aware of the problem:
To address the dangers of next-day drowsiness, the FDA has cut in half the recommended doses for Ambien and Lunesta. The labels for Ambien CR and Belsomra 20 milligrams, in fact, caution against driving at all the day after taking the pill.
There is a use for sleeping pills. But it’s limited. Nathaniel Watson, MD, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says:
Sleeping pills should be reserved for short-term insomnia — such as that caused by jet lag, anxiety after the death of a family member, or job loss.
* Here’s that study:
Sedative Hypnotic Medication Use and the Risk of Motor Vehicle Crash, American Journal of Public Health, August 2015
If someone is involved in a car crash the day after taking a sleeping pill, they should be cited for DUI, for driving under the influence. If people want to drink or take drugs, it’s their prerogative. But don’t get behind the wheel of a car and risk others’ lives. It’s selfish. It’s wrong.
That Consumer Reports article included this video on sleep hygiene. Notice how many times they mention the influence of light: