On Thursday night, I tuned in to my favorite mock-news program, “The Colbert Report.” As an avid news reader, I was not surprised to see Stephen Colbert take on the popular sleep aid, Ambien, in the show. A new government report has shown that the side effects one might experience while taking Ambien might be downright dangerous. People are experiencing serious and severe memory lapses when taking the drug. Sleep walking, sleep eating and falling asleep in strange places are all common on the drug.
While it seems Colbert had an easy time poking fun at this new development in medicated sleep aids, the underlying message was clear: sleeping pills are no laughing matter. Sleep issues are all too prevalent in our society. According to the CDC, “An estimated 50-70 million US adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder,” making prescription sleep aids a common solution for the problem.
The CDC also reports that about 4 percent of people take prescriptions such as Ambien to help get a little shuteye at night. According to a report done by NPR, “Most sleep medications work by binding to receptors in charge of thinking. So cognition is slowed, coordination interfered with and memory impaired.” This means that, when taking these pills, people will not remember what they are doing before they fall asleep. While most doctors recommend that people take the pill when they are in bed to avoid any dangerous mishaps like cooking or driving while your memory is impaired, most people don’t follow that advice.
The problems with Ambien have been long-documented. In January of this year, the FDA recommended that the dose of Ambien be lowered due to next-day impairment. People were waking up and not able to resume their normal routine. As of May of this year, emergency room visits due to Ambien or other prescription sleep aids were up 220 percent. According to CBS News, “In 2005, 6,111 visits were due to the sleep aid medication, a new government report found. That number rose to 19,487 visits in 2010. Seventy-four percent of the patients were 45 or older, the report issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration…said.” This is an incredible increase, and nothing to laugh about.
For many people, though, prescription sleep aids are a last-ditch effort to get some rest in a hectic life. In a medication-happy society, though, one has to wonder if doctors are doing enough to remedy sleep problems without prescriptions before pills like Ambien become necessary. If you need some help getting some shuteye and you aren’t quite ready to face the intense side effects of drugs like Ambien, here are four things you can try.
Natural Sleep Aids
There are plenty of natural sleep aids out there that might work really well for you if you haven’t tried them yet. Teas like chamomile or scents like lavender have been proven to have a calming effect on the body. Drink some tea to warm you up and light a candle. Just be sure to blow the candle out before you fall asleep.
Part of not being able to get to sleep is not having a routine before bedtime. We rush around trying to get everything done last minute, and then we think that sleep will come as soon as we lay down. For most of us, it won’t. Have a routine before you go to bed. Try to eat dinner well before trying to fall asleep, then go about preparing for your next day. Set out clothes, pack lunches, etc. Then, curl up in bed with your relaxing tea and a book or something else that will relax you.
Shut Off Electronics
If you think television will relax you before bed, think again. Having a bright screen like a TV, tablet or phone constantly in your face can mess up your rhythms. When faced with artificial light like this, your body can’t tell if it’s night or day, which can cause trouble getting to sleep. Shut off your electronics at least an hour before bedtime, and make sure your bedroom is dark, too, when you try to fall asleep.
Keep a Pad of Paper Bedside
If you’re anything like me, you wake up just as you are starting to fall asleep with a memory of something you were supposed to do or remember for the next day. Instead of laying awake, worrying about whether or not you will remember to do this all-important thing, I started leaving a small notebook and pen in my nightstand. That way, when I think of something important, I can write it down quickly and trust that it’ll be there in the morning. The physical act of getting these things out of my head and onto paper helps me clear my mind and get some Z’s.
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