Insomnia and Sleeping Pill Addiction: How It Starts

woman sleeping in bed with pills and water on night stand

About 50 million to 70 million people in the U.S suffer from sleep disorders including sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome, all of which can prevent getting adequate shuteye. This problem is endemic to America, but universal to humans everywhere.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night and 25% of kids have difficulty sleeping. Also, 30.9% of adults in Utah reported regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, with the highest rate in those ages 45 to 54 (35%).

More than 45% of people worldwide suffer from sleep problems severe enough to impair their health. Research has linked chronic sleep deprivation to high blood pressure, a compromised immune system, weight gain, a lack of libido, mood swings, paranoia and depression. Insomnia also increases the risk of diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, dementia and some cancers.

In older adults, sleep issues are often linked to pain, general health problems, the need to use the toilet at night or anxiety and stress. The latter two are common insomnia risk factors in people of all ages. When a person starts worrying about not sleeping, this can exacerbate the problem. It’s no wonder so many people turn to sleep aids.

In 2013, about 8.3% of U.S. adults took anxiety drugs, sedatives or sleeping pills. According to the U.S. National Poll on Healthy Aging, of the more than 1,000 older adults ages 65 to 80 surveyed, 14% regularly took prescription sleep medication, prescription pain medication and over-the-counter sleep aids or herbal supplements.

Are Prescription Sleeping Pills Addictive?

Some people who are prescribed sleeping pills end up dependent on the drugs, while others unintentionally or intentionally abuse them.

  • The most commonly prescribed medications for sleep problems, benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax) and zolpidem (e.g. Ambien), can lead to a sleeping pill addiction.
  • When a person develops an addiction to sleeping pills, this means they cannot sleep without the pills, escalating doses may be required and withdrawal symptoms can occur upon cessation or shortly thereafter.

Is it Harmful to Take Sleeping Pills?

A recent study found nearly 30% of fatal opioid overdoses in the U.S. also involved benzodiazepines, which are prescribed for anxiety and insomnia.

  • The study revealed physicians were concurrently prescribing both drugs to privately insured individuals from 2001-2013, an increase of 80%.
  • In addition to the danger of taking these with opioid painkillers, sleeping pills can prove fatal when mixed with alcohol and other types of drugs. In older adults, some prescription or non-prescription sleep aids have been linked to falls, memory issues, confusion and constipation.

How Long Does It Take for a Sleeping Pill to Wear Off?

Sleeping pills are supposed to wear off after eight hours, although drowsiness can last much longer at higher doses or if you sleep for less than eight hours after taking them.

  • Research conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indicated men and women who were prescribed Ambien suffered high levels of impairment the next morning. This results in increased risks when driving or performing activities requiring mental alertness.

How to Stop Taking Sleeping Pills

It is important to speak to a physician about other therapeutic options before quitting.

  • A tapered dosing schedule can help ease the worst side effects of drug withdrawal. Studies have shown people have an easier time discontinuing benzodiazepines if they take a substitute medication while gradually reducing the dosage.
  • Evidence also shows cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective psychotherapeutic intervention to help people stop taking sleeping pills.

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