For years the CDC has reported we don’t get enough sleep. In their 2016 report they claim at least 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. Enough sleep is is defined as at least 7 hours per night. The CDC has acknowledges this a problem of epidemic proportions.
~ And this report doesn’t even take into account sleep quality!
Several years ago Arianna Huffington president, and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group realized she was severely sleep deprived and began researching the effects sleep deprivation has on the body. What she found astounded her and because she felt this was such an important health issue she has devoted a section of her website to sleep.
How bad is sleep deprivation for your health?
First, it’s important to realize that chronic sleep problems (insomnia) are a symptom of more serious health concerns. Chronic lack of sleep is a warning sign that your body is out of balance. Taking sleeping pills is NOT the way to get to the root cause of why you’re not sleeping.
According to research done by the British Medical Journal:
- People who took just three sleeping pills every two months tripled their risk of cancer.
- Those who used sleeping pills twice a week increased their cancer risk up to six times.
- The risk of developing cancers of the prostate, colon and lung and lymphoma for people taking just two sleeping pills a week was higher than that of cigarette smokers.
- The other cause of death dramatically raised by sleeping pill use was suicide.
Here’s the link to the study Hypnotics associated with increased mortality
Safety concerns using prescription and OTC medications
Prescription medications come in different types. Prescription medications are classified as sedative hypnotics. Basically this kind of medications act by working on receptors in the brain to slow down the nervous system. Some medications are used more for inducing sleep, while others are used for staying asleep. Some last longer than others in your system (a longer half life), and some have a higher risk of becoming habit-forming.
Drawbacks to prescription benzodiazepine sleeping pills
- You can become both physically and psychologically dependent on the sleep medication. You may believe that you can’t sleep without it, and actually experience physical withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and rebound insomnia.
- Sleeping pills can lose their effectiveness if used on a nightly basis, because the brain receptors become less sensitive to their effects. In as little as three to four weeks, benzodiazepines can become no more effective than a sugar pill.
- The overall quality of your sleep can be reduced, with less restorative deep sleep and dream sleep.
- You may experience next day cognitive slowing and drowsiness (the hangover effect), which may be even greater than from sleep deprivation.
- Even if the medication is effective while taking it, insomnia returns once it is stopped
Wile there are newer “safer” prescription medications these are also not without side effects such as dangerous sleep-related behaviors such as sleep-walking, sleep-driving, and sleep-eating behaviors.
But don’t think that over the counter medications are safer. OTC sleep aids can have potentially dangerous side effects if you have glaucoma, trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate gland, or a breathing problem such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis. There are other associated risks of interactions if you are currently taking an antidepressant such as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) or did so as recently as two weeks ago. Other potential interaction risks are known for those drugs used to treat depression or Parkinson’s disease. Women who breast-feed should not take OTC sleep aids.
Over the counter sleep aids rely on antihistamines to drug you into sleep. While antihistamines are generally taken for allergies, hay fever and common cold symptoms, they do produce drowsiness. While the positive effects have not been substantiated through research, the side effects, such as drowsiness the following day, can be common and severe.
With these kinds of warnings doesn’t it make you wonder what else these drugs may be doing to harm your long-term health?
A healthy night’s sleep requires a “sleep cycle”
Something else most people who use these medications don’t realize it that sleep medications don’t help your body get the right kind of sleep because they act on one portion of the sleep cycle and don’t do anything to help you body get to each of the five stages of sleep. Healthy, natural sleep cycles begin with a lower level of melatonin being produced in later afternoon that gradually increases to its highest point at around ten pm. This cycle coincides with darkness and is one reason why shift workers are at higher risk for sleep related health problems since they are forced to be awake working when their bodies naturally rhythm wants to be sleeping.
Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland is dependent upon adequate serotonin production so if you’re not producing enough serotonin you’re not going to be producing melatonin.
Try these lifestyle changes to improve sleep
- Eat your last meal of the day three hours before going to bed.
- Don’t perform vigorous exercise at night before going to bed. Do your heavy work outs earlier in the day as exercise of this type tends to rev up your metabolism.
- Do stay active as studies show physical activity does help improve sleep quality. Get at least :30 minutes of exercise every day. Just make sure you exercise earlier in the day and not right before bedtime.
- Be sure you establish a regular sleep wake schedule going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time each day.
- Don’t overstimulate your mind before sleep by watching the news, suspense filled television shows or films or playing video games. And do put your cell phone, tablet away and turn computers off at least one hour before bedtime! I know this one can be tough but do it and reap the rewards of better sleep.
- Remove led & blue light emitting electronic devices near your bed as these lights (and EMF’s) interfere with sleep. These are in cell phones, tablets, televisions, computers and alarm clocks! Move these into another room or as far away as you can from your bed.
- Make sure the temperature in your bedroom is not too warm or drafty as this also interferes with sleep quality.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark and not bright. Add black out window treatments if you are a night shift worker and you have to seep during the daylight hours.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine late in the evening.
- Limit or stop drinking water two hours before bedtime to decrease frequency of urination (less trips to the bathroom) at night.
If you still find you are having trouble sleeping you may want to consider testing. In order to determine why you’re not sleeping you’ll need to get your cortisol and hormone levels checked. The best way to do this is through saliva testing ASI (Adrenal Stress Index) and Circulating Hormone panel tests. These tests can be done at home using kits and this is something I routinely use with my clients.
I also recommend you check thyroid and insulin levels by getting a CBC blood panel done by your physician.These hormones also impact sleep and may require adjustment through medication or supplementation (as well as better diet & lifestyle!)
It’s important to work with a trained practitioner to interpret these tests as there are many of variations possible in these results that lend themselves to distinct next steps in terms of lifestyle, dietary and supplement combinations/dosages/timings and options. Working with a trained practitioner you may need to referred to a sleep specialist for further evaluation.
Natural supplement options that may be appropriate for your individual circumstance.
- 5HTP – this amino acid helps your body manufacture more melatonin and serotonin
- L-tryptophan – the amino acid that helps your body make serotonin and melatonin; works better for some people provided they have the other needed co-factors
- L-theanine – an amino acid found in green tea has been shown to increase REM and total sleep reduce and wakefulness frequency according to a study by the European Sleep Research Society.
- GABA – a relaxing amino acid that is helpful for stress induced insomnia
- Melatonin – dosage is important and so it duration of use with this. Melatonin is also important as an antioxidant and boosts the immune system
- St. John’s-Wort – helps boost both serotonin and melatonin production
- Valerian root – sedative effects helps reduce insomnia; relaxes muscles and reduces anxiety, nervous headaches and helps with menstrual pain. Does not impair concentration or performance.
This is but a small list of non-prescription options to help reduce insomnia.
Remember what works for one person may not work for another and some of these substances may be contraindicated for you if you are taking certain medications or have been diagnosed with specific conditions. Proper evaluation of your unique lifestyle and nutritional habits as well as medications and diagnosis’s is essential.
Want more in-depth answers to your sleep problems? Fill out my Are we a Fit? Are we a Fit? and I’ll contact you about a no cost 20 minute consult to see how I can help you.
Find out more here on the five stages of sleep:
Other links and references used in this post:
See related posts: Are you getting enough sleep?