Is Sleep Medication Overused?

Last updated: March 28, 2019

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

We live in a time when we can have everything at the snap of a finger. Need a ride? Call Uber. Hungry but don’t want to cook or go out? Have food delivered at your doorsteps. We even have mobile phone apps that dial and make appointments for us. We can’t even perform menial tasks like looking up a phone number without the help of Alexa or Siri.

It is not surprising that even going to sleep comes in the form of a pill. We have pills for headaches, coughs, colds, skin whitening, and acne. So why not a pill for getting to sleep? It is easy to understand people suffering from sleep disorders like insomnia or narcolepsy relying on medication. But there should be limitations on when and how long we should use them.

Am I abusing my sleep medication?

If you’ve been relying on your sleep medication for months, then you’re most likely abusing it. Most sleep medications are for short-time use only. Short time meaning you should use them for no longer than a couple of weeks. If you’ve been on sleep medication for months, then you may have a problem.

Sleep medications are easy to abuse. Their promises are so tempting. Take a pill at bedtime and in just a few minutes, you’re drifting off to la-la-land. The potential for abuse is greater for those who self-medicate. They turn to non-prescription or over-the-counter drugs that may be habit-forming.

A survey conducted in 2016 found that 18 percent of people who said they’d taken over-the-counter sleep aids say that they took them on a daily basis. And of that number, 41 percent said that they’ve been on sleep medication for more than a year. This is alarming because sleep medications are just for short-term use.

Most of them even use drugs that are not really meant to be used as sleep aids. We’re using drugs like Tylenol and Advil as sleep aids. And we’re taking them on a daily basis like they’re multivitamins.

What can go wrong if I abuse sleep medications?

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

You can build tolerance

When somebody uses a drug continuously, their body builds a tolerance to the effects of the said drug. Think of it as similar to the way a chef is used to the hot temperatures of the kitchen. Their bodies have adjusted to the temperature. Your body is the same. Take medication for too long and there will come a time when your body is no longer affected by the medication.

Tolerance is bad for straight-up sleep medications. It’s going to be nightmarish for those who take medications intended for something else and use them as sleeping pills. Say that you’ve been using Advil as a substitute sleep aid. Your body can build a tolerance for it. Advil is a pain reliever. Imagine what’s going to happen when you take Advil because of a headache or a toothache. You wait for a few minutes, only to find out that it’s pain-relieving properties are no longer working for you.  

Dependence

Tolerance has a twin and its name is dependence. When you take a sleep medication for a long time, your body gets used to it. Taking a sleep aid becomes part of your bedtime ritual. It’s a psychological effect and your brain interprets taking a sleep aid as the signal that you’re ready to sleep. If you abuse your sleep medication, you might not be able to go to sleep without taking one. This can happen even when you no longer need the medication. Your body starts craving the medication and you might suffer withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it.

Some people even experience “rebound insomnia”. This is a condition where the sleeping problems get worse once a person stops taking sleep medication. The best way to avoid rebound insomnia is to talk to your doctor. Your doctor can help gradually wean you off your medication.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Delirium
  • Body spasms
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression

Adverse Effects

You can also experience adverse effects from long-term use of medications. We used Advil as an example earlier. Advil contains a pain reliever, ibuprofen. Ibuprofen can cause gastrointestinal problems and even stomach ulcers when abused.

Tylenol, on the other hand, has acetaminophen. This is a pain reliever that can cause liver problems. When combined with frequent alcohol intake, you might end up with liver disease.

The adverse effects of long-term use of sleep medications can be disastrous. You might be courting new and potentially life-threatening health issues if you overuse and abuse sleep medications.

Sleep medications or sleeping pills are sleep aids that we should use sparingly. There’s a good reason why most of them require prescriptions. A person should only take them if he has exhausted all non-medical options. And if your doctor prescribes them to you, you should take them while still exercising good sleeping habits that can help you sleep better. This way, there is no need for you to rely on them completely.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

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