Sleep, Sleeping Pills And Other Alternatives, Part II

Sleep, Sleeping Pills And Other Alternatives, Part II

Last week we discussed the five stages of sleep, some of the conditions which affect sleep and some of the facts and myths about sleep. Many of our patients at Novus Medical Detox who are detoxing from heroin addiction, methadone addiction, or OxyContin addiction complain that they can’t sleep. This week we will discuss some of the ways that we help our patients sleep and how our society deals with sleep. We also discuss the need to not treat the symptoms but look for the medical cause if sleep problems continue for more than a few days.


In our society, when someone goes to a doctor and complains that they have insomnia, the doctor often does not speak with the patient to determine if there are lifestyle changes that could help them sleep (as we will discuss later), or look for an underlying physical cause or advocate a natural aid. Frequently, the doctor just writes a prescription. On the list of the top-selling prescription drugs in 2006, number 31 is Ambien with sales of $2.54 billion and number 167 is Lunesta with sales of $567 million. In 2006, it is estimated that these two companies spent a total of almost $800 million advertising their drugs. These prescription sleeping pills are called Sedative/Hypnotics. Both of their drug labels state they don’t know how the drugs work but believe that the drugs affect the same receptors affected by benzodiazepines. (Xanax and Ativan are benzodiazepines.). Because of their potential for abuse---both dependence and addiction---Ambien and Lunesta are Schedule IV controlled substances, like Xanax and Ativan. In fact, many of the people that come to Novus Medical Detox Center are not only addicted or dependent on opioids, alcohol or other drugs but also to Ambien or Lunesta and have decided that they want to detox from Ambien and Lunesta while at Novus. Ambien and Lunesta are intended for short-term use, seven to ten days. Doctors may prescribe both drugs, and often do, for longer use, but the drug labels warn that if insomnia continues for longer than seven to ten days, there may be a medical illness.


The side effects of these sleep medicines are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty with coordination
  • Confusion
  • Strange behavior
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Worsening of depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Decreased inhibition (e.g., aggressiveness and extroversion that seem out of character)
  • Amnesia
In addition, the drug labels are required to warn of more serious side effects that users don’t recall (have amnesia) doing. Some of these are:
  • Sleep-driving (driving while not fully awake)
  • Preparing and eating food
  • Making phone calls
  • Having sex
If you want to stop taking these drugs, you can experience withdrawal symptoms. Some of these are:
  • Unpleasant feelings
  • Abdominal and muscle cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness
  • Seizures


There are too many herbs that have been used to assist people to get to sleep for us to cover them here. However, melatonin, a hormone derived from tryptophan, an amino acid, is an integral part of many natural products. Melatonin has been studied extensively and there have been some positive results from it in treating insomnia and other sleep-related disorders. Some of these studies show the uses for melatonin for more than just helping us get to sleep. A few of these uses are:

  • Insomnia
  • Jet lag
  • ADHD
  • Benzodiazepine tapering


Magnesium has been successful in treating and relieving:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Constipation
  • Muscle tremors or cramps
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Pain


Studies have shown that people who exercise for at least thirty minutes each day will experience far fewer sleep problems.


While chocolate sure tastes good, it contains caffeine and any substance containing caffeine will act as a stimulant which will keep most of us awake. Nicotine also causes sleep problems. If you are a smoker and have sleep problems, then rather than take a pill, it is recommended that you find a way to either stop or at least severely curtail your smoking. As we said in the first article, alcohol prevents most people from being able to get into deep sleep and REM sleep.


Studies have shown, logically, that people who are stressed will have trouble getting to sleep, and if they do start sleeping they will not be able to get much deep sleep and REM sleep. The solution is to find a way to relax. For some of us we can relax if we take a warm bath or shower. Others of us relax from the day’s activities by taking a walk and others find that reading a book is what they need.


Many of us have gone to bed and couldn’t sleep, but we just stayed in bed and hoped for sleep. Maybe it came but often the sleep we got was not refreshing. One theory is that we made our insomnia worse because we laid there and worried about not being able to get to sleep. It is recommended that if you find you can’t sleep, the thing to do is just get up and read or watch television or just walk. After a time you should start to feel more sleepy and be able to get to sleep.


As we discussed in last week’s article, it has been shown that room temperatures that are either too high or too low will inhibit our ability to obtain deep sleep and REM sleep. If the room is very cold, then add a blanket. If the room is very warm, then get a fan or turn on the air conditioner.


The advice we give our patients at Novus Medical Detox Center is that if you are having more than occasional problems with sleep and you have tried all the natural things that are suggested, remember that there may be medical problems causing this. Finding these physical problems will often be the real cause of your sleep problems and handling the cause will enable you to sleep again. Finally, any time we take a sleeping pill or other substance to make us sleep we should remember Dave Barry’s advice, “Never under any circumstances take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.”

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