Many people rely on prescription sleeping medication to be able to fall asleep and to have a good night’s rest. These sleeping medications, usually sleeping tablets, are referred to as sedative hypnotics in the medical profession, and are not designed for long term use.
There are three main categories of sedative hypnotics:
- · Melatonin-receptor agonists that target melatonin receptors in the brain and tend to leave the body quickly. They are not deemed to be habit-forming.
- · Benzodiazepines that target a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that reduces nerve activity and promotes sleep. They can be habit forming and can lead to waking up groggy in the morning and feelings of sleepiness during the day.
- · Nonbenzodiazepines that target GABA as well. They do not last as long in the body and have fewer side effects than benzodiazepines. They can also lead to daytime sleepiness.
Once used to sleeping medication over longer periods of time, one tends to develop a dependence on them. When you stop taking them, you can develop temporary withdrawal symptoms that prevents you from sleeping well. If you stop taking the sleeping medication too quickly, you can get rebound insomnia, which convinces the users that they need the medication to sleep. Instead of abruptly stopping sleeping medication, it is best to taper off the medication slowly under a doctor’s supervision to monitor the withdrawal response.
Learn the risk of sleep aids. Published in the July 2017 Harvard Health Letter. Harvard Medical School. (www.health.harvard.edu)
The savvy sleeper: Wean yourself off sleep aids. Published in the December 2013 Harvard Health Letter. Harvard Medical School. (www.health.harvard.edu)