Taking sleeping pills can start out innocently. We all know what it’s like to have a stressful week at work and how difficult it can be to fall asleep at the end of the day as a result.
However, while this may have been a quick fix option, you could soon find yourself reaching for the container before you go to sleep every night. If you develop a dependency, you could end up experiencing some damaging long-term side effects as well as a habit that you can’t kick no matter what you do.
While you may be tempted to go cold turkey, this could end up being dangerous to your health. Let’s take a look at a safer approach to getting off sleeping pills and how you can kick the habit once and for all.
Sleeping Pills: The Long-Term Effects
Just like with any type of drug, both legal and illicit, your body ends up building up a tolerance for it over time. If you like to drink coffee in the morning, you may be able to think back to a time when you only needed one cup to get you through, not two or three. The same kind of principle can be applied to sleeping pills. You may need to increase how many you take just to get to sleep, and you may also find that you can no longer get to sleep without them.
You’ve heard of common health conditions like sleep eating and sleepwalking. In fact, these are pretty common in people who have been taking sleeping medication for an extended period of time. Parasomnia is a word that’s used to describe unusual behavior that may occur while you’re asleep. While there are many different theories around why this happens, the most common one is because sleeping pills can interfere with your REM cycles, which can result in you walking, sleeping or even driving when you’re asleep.
One particularly worrying side effect of sleeping pills is the question about how long they stay in our systems for. They say that sleeping pills can stay in our system much longer than we may anticipate. This means that you could still be feeling the effects of it well into the morning, which could end up making the drive to work pretty dangerous.
While we’ve come a long way when it comes to understanding our brain and how prescription medication affects it, we’ve still got a long way to go, too. Another side effect that medicine can have on us is increasing the likelihood of a fall or injury while we’re on it.
While this may sound scary, the stark reality is that, like other medication, sleeping pills can have a fatal effect in some circumstances. Let’s take a look at what these circumstances are:
- If you are doing something that’s potentially dangerous while you’re asleep or heavily sedated with sleeping pills, e.g. driving or walking into a busy street full of traffic.
- If you take more than your prescribed dose, this is because sleeping pills can block your brains breathing receptors, which can naturally cause you to die.
Sleeping Pill Withdrawal
Like many other prescription medications, your body will go through a sort of detox if you stop using sleeping pills after having been on them for an extended period.
When talking specifically about sleeping pills, however, the detox can be particularly painful, both physiologically and physically. As the rest of the medication slowly begins to leave your system, you may experience symptoms that include vomiting and diarrhea, which in turn will leave you dehydrated.
How to Sleep Without a Pill
Try Going to Bed Later
Try tracking your sleeping patterns for a week and figuring out an average from them. Keep a log of what time you go to bed each night and what time you actually fall asleep.
From the times recorded for when you fall asleep, find any average. This should be when you actually try to go to sleep. If it’s later than what you’re used to, you may find yourself feeling groggy and tired. However, this is what you need to do in order to make your body feel like going to sleep.
Using a Reverse Power Hour
When the evening approaches and you’re thinking about when you’re going to go to sleep, it’s essential to prepare for this moment, so your chances of falling asleep are high.
To do so try spending an hour of your evening intentionally unwinding. This could involve a relaxing bath or reading a book. It could also include preparing for the day you’ve got ahead, so you don’t have to think about those things as you’re falling off to sleep.
Complete Your Tasks
If you’ve got a to-do list that doesn’t show any sign of getting shorter, this may be one reason why you’re struggling to sleep at night. Instead of lying in bed and worrying about it, why not try using this time to tick some of the things off the list?
Make a Bedtime Routine
Similar to a couple of the suggestions above, having a nightly bedtime routine is one of your best bets at getting off to sleep easily. This is because your body has a biological clock. We are creatures of habit, so the better we can stick to that clock and do things at the same time, the better our sleep will be throughout the night.
If you’ve got a series of steps that you follow every night in the same order, your body will know when you do them that you’re getting ready to go to sleep.
Relax and Unwind
As well as having a bath or reading you could even try some other relaxing activities like drinking herbal tea, journaling or even praying.
Gently Get Off Your Sleeping Pills
You may be tempted to do something dramatic with your sleeping pills like flush them down the toilet. However, as we mentioned above, it’s going to be much healthier if you gently come off them instead of going cold turkey.
Let’s take a look at some helpful, practical ways to wean yourself off your sleeping pills:
- Try taking half of your usual nightly dose for the first two weeks.
- When you have reached three weeks, trying cutting that dose in half again. This means that you’ll now be taking just a quarter of what you initially were.
- Continue to take your quarter dose through to week four.
- Once you’ve reached week four, try only taking your quarter dose every three nights instead of every night.
- By the end of your fifth week, you should be able to come completely off your sleeping pills.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Sleeping Pills
While everyone is different when it comes to withdrawal symptoms, there are some that are more common than others.
Among the most common withdrawal symptoms are anxiety, mood swings, and confusion. If you’ve been using your sleeping pills for a long time, then you may experience more severe symptoms like vomiting, convulsions and even hallucinations.
It’s important to note that the more the medication leaves your body, the more severe the symptoms may become. As well as these common symptoms, you may also experience tremors, sweating and an increase in heart rate. You should experience any symptoms like this within the first week up to ten days.
Once you’ve made it through the first week, you’ll start to feel a bit different. While the physical symptoms may have disappeared by now, you could be experiencing other symptoms that are more physiological, like depression or anxiety.
As you reach week three, you should notice that all of your symptoms have faded. It’s important to know, though, that if you’ve been on your medication for an extended period, it could take months to be completely back to normal again.
What is Rebound Insomnia?
This is a scenario that involves having more trouble getting to sleep when you’re off medication than when you’re on it. This is because the medication has taken away your body’s ability to fall asleep naturally. Now that you aren’t relying on drugs to help you fall asleep, your body can’t do it on its own.
Sleeping Pills: Are They Addictive?
Yes. While they’re not as bad as opioids, they can cause a habit of needing to take them every night before you fall asleep.
While sometimes all we need is an easy way to fall asleep, this quick-fix solution can end up coming with long-term complications. Because you’re interfering with the chemistry of your body, it’s important only to use sleeping pills if you absolutely have to – like if you want to get some shuteye on a plane. Otherwise, you should avoid them when you can, especially if you’ve just had a long, stressful day at work.
However, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional sleeping pill. Just bear in mind that once you’ve used them a number of times, you may find it hard to get to sleep without them at all.