Sleep Aids and Insomnia

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  • to get up during the night. Why? The sedating effects of hypnotics increase the risk for falls. Doses should be lower for the elderly.
  • Those who have to operate machinery soon after awakening. Why? In medications with long half-lives, the risk of accidents may be increased.
  • People who have sleep apnea . Why? Breathing may be further impaired.

While many people worry about prescription sleep aids, believing them to be addictive (or habit-forming), researchers offer a reassuring picture. Studies show that people with insomnia don't tend to abuse sleep aids. They don't tend to take higher doses than prescribed.

Negative effects or abuses tend to be linked to excessive doses or to individuals who abuse other drugs or alcohol. Side effects of prescription sleep aids are related to the person's age, dose and half-life. Selecting the proper dose is especially important for older people. When hypnotics stay in the body longer, they remain active and can cause daytime sleepiness or forgetfulness.

Younger people can be at risk for side effects too. People who use higher doses and hypnotics with longer half-lives tend to experience more side effects. To avoid these side effects, sleep specialists often advise the use of hypnotics with short half-lives. Any change in dosage should be discussed with your doctor.

Many people use sleep medications that are available without a prescription. These sleep aids are available "over-the-counter" (OTC) because they have been found to be safe when used according to their directions. However, OTC sleep aids may be less effective and they may have been subjected to less rigorous testing. Many non-prescription sleep products include antihistamines. These substances are designed to block chemicals released during a cold or allergy attack, not to promote sleep. However, many have sedating (calming) effects. Some OTC sleep aids may also include pain relievers.

As with hypnotics, OTC sleep aids should not be used by individuals who are also taking alcohol or other drugs with sedating effects. Older persons should be cautious about these drugs because of their slower metabolisms. Drugs stay in the body longer and can then cause