Should you take sleeping pills or night time pain relievers if you're having trouble getting to sleep?
Recent research from the online journal BMJ Open has found that prescription sleeping pills (e.g., Ambien, Restoril, Lunesta, Sonata, Halcion) as well as over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers (e.g., Tylenol PM) may cause an increased risk of death. The risk of dying over a 2.5-year period was four times higher for those taking sleeping pills. The more frequent the usage, the greater the risk of premature death. The sleeping pills do not directly cause death but may increase the risk of death due to unforeseen circumstances (i.e., accidental falls, auto accidents, etc.). The indicators of possible health problems (i.e., heart disease, cancer) may be hidden when taking sleeping pills regularly. OTC pain relievers contain acetaminophen, which when consumed in high doses over time may increase the risk of liver damage.
If you feel it necessary to take sleeping pills, be sure to take them for a relatively short period of time (i.e., 3 to 4 days)--the drugs are not recommended for long-term usage. Generally, sleeping pills are not recommended for chronic insomnia as the drug loses its effectiveness over time. Try to make it a habit of getting to bed at about the same time each night and avoid physical exercise in the evening. By the way, there is some evidence to support that regular exercise (when performed earlier in the day) does promote a better night's sleep. People who exercise regularly are less likely to have trouble falling asleep.
BOTTOM LINE: Sleeping pills have limited effectiveness, have potential side-effects, and long-term safety is unknown. If you do decide to take sleeping pills, be sure to take the smallest dose needed. Avoid mixing alcohol with sleeping pills. Avoid driving the morning after taking sleeping pills.
Brian Danley, CFT
"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."
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I'm a personal trainer who loves to help others fulfill their health and fitness goals. I consider myself a bodybuilder in that I live the lifestyle of eating healthy food, working out regularly, and sculpting my body.