There are acute and chronic side-effects of over the counter and prescribed sleeping aids. Research shows that dementia and forgetfulness are side effects of long-term use of sleeping aids. As a Registered Nurse, I have cared for patients who turn in bed restlessly until their sleeping pill arrives. Sleeping aids, like most other drugs, do not only create a chronic reliance, but also increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Using natural solutions, such as proper diet, control of stress, anxiety, and depression are safe and healthy solutions to poor sleep and insomnia.
Overuse And Misuse Of Sleeping Aids
Across the United States, and most of our developed world, sleeping aids have increased in popularity. Over 9 million Americans use prescription sleep aids, and many more use over the counter sleeping aids. Additionally, we now have sleeping aids for our pet dogs! It has become increasingly difficult for our society to get a good night’s rest without the use of sleeping pills.
Millennials between 18 and 35 years of age, seem to be the most sleepless generation, with only one-third getting sufficient sleep. It is not much better for Baby Boomers, who once rejected anti-anxiety and sleeping medication, but are now dependent or addicted. The typical American family who works over 40 hours a week, nursing home workers, and elderly in assisted living facilities, see sleeping aids are a quick, go-to solution after spending 20-30 minutes tossing and turning in bed.
Common Active Ingredients In Sleeping Aids (Prescribed & OTC)
The chemical family benzodiazepine, which includes lorazepam, diazepam, branded Xanax, and many others, are found in prescription sleeping aids aimed at treating insomnia-related anxiety. Benzodiazepines is not only addictive, it can also reduce the quality of sleep over time, as reported by the National Institute of Health. Zolpidem and zaleplon are also generically prescribed ingredients which are found in Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. During a five-year period, these ingredients will steadily increase Alzheimer’s and dementia risk.
A common active ingredient in over the counter sleeping aids is diphenhydramine, an antihistamine, which is also an active ingredient in Benadryl. Diphenhydramine treats itchiness, watery eyes, runny nose, hives, symptoms of allergies, hay fever, and the common cold. Diphenhydramine is also used to treat vomiting, nausea, and dizziness; which are not everyday occurrences in most lives. As an antihistamine, diphenhydramine does a pretty good job at making people feel sleepy, and is found in most over the counter sleeping aids. However, it is important to understand that we are using this ingredient for its side effect – not its treatment. That is, we are misusing over the counter sleeping aids with diphenhydramine for the side effect of making people feel sleepy, instead of treating nausea, dizziness and vomiting. This can become a problem, especially if the drug is used long-term.
“The simple life on the farm was everything to me. Nothing was more relaxing after a long plane flight than to reach the winding driveway that led up to my house. The quiet of the night was more soothing than a sleeping pill”. Quote By Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
Do These Pills Really Cause Dementia & Alzheimer’s?
Most over the counter and prescribed sleeping aids have the following ingredients in them, which increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Benzodiazepines: The British Medical Journal suggest that Benzodiazepines promote the development of dementia. But just how fast? For individual age 66 and higher who take benzodiazepine four to six months risked developing Alzheimer’s and dementia by 30%. The risks increase to 80% if the individuals continued the use of Benzodiazepines for more than six months.
- Zolpidem: A study conducted by the NHIRD found that Zolpidem alone was significantly associated with increased risk of dementia. Moreover, the use of Zolpidem with other underlying diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and/or stroke, also increased the risk. The study controlled a number of possible confounders, such as depression, anxiety, and stroke. Increased dosage might also have a higher risk of dementia development, especially in the older population or in individuals with underlying diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and stroke.
- Zaleplon is a newer drug for insomnia and has less known chronic side-effects. However, long-term use of zaleplon, like any other sleeping aid, may increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Zaleplon works similar in the brain compared to benzodiazepines.
- Diphenhydramine: Aside from short-term side effects of drowsiness, dry eyes, and constipation, diphenhydramines also increase the risk of dementia. In 2015, the JAMA Internal Medicine reported that diphenhydramines have a strong anticholinergic effect and may cause confusion and hallucinations with long-term use.
Even though there is a clear association between sleeping aids and dementia, experts say that “we still cannot proof that sleeping aids actually cause Alzheimer’s and Dementia”. But what these experts fail to realize is that a single study can take between 10 to 20 years, and research results are also influenced by the participants’ habits and lifestyles. Taking this into consideration, along with the available evidence, it is hard to recommend the use of prescribed and over the counter sleeping aids (especially long-term).
Using A Natural Sleeping Aid
Stress, anxiety, and depression are 3 of the main causes for poor sleep habits and insomnia. Consequently, managing your stress, controlling anxiety, and being a happier person will result in a better night’s sleep.
Proper diet can also play a role in a good night’s sleep. Staying properly nourished and hydrated will make it easier for your body to rest. Drinking caffeine free teas, such “sleepy time”, or teas with Chamomile and Lavender can help soothe you to sleep.
Additionally, having a proper sleep cycle and not oversleeping, will allow your body to rest well while preserving day time energy. Avoid higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, try natural sleeping solutions instead of over the counter and prescription sleeping pills.