In the third part of the four-part series "The Science Of Sleep," although more Americans are turning to sleeping pills to get a good night's rest, experts warn that over-the-counter and prescription sleep medications work in different ways. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
The aisles of almost any drugstore include some kind of over-the-counter sleep aid promising a better night's rest. According to the National Sleep Foundation, use of both over-the-counter and prescription sleep drugs have nearly doubled within the past decade.
"Drug therapy is very popular because it is easy. No matter how you got into your insomnia, that's easier than doing guided imagery, it's easier than maybe getting a bedtime routine," says Dr. Carl Bazil of NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia Medical Center.The most well-known prescription sleep medicines available include Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta and Rozerem, which are all classified as nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics. They all work to help get users to sleep throughout the night, but they last different amounts of time in the body.
Despite some concerns about safety, most doctors agree the medications are one of the most effective ways of helping to correct sleep patterns, especially when combined with behaviorial changes.
"A lot of these people, for instance, may have been very sleep-deprived once they get to sleep. This brings out a tendency to do things like 'sleep eating,' but often when I speak to these people carefully, they're not really doing it correctly," says Bazil. "They do things like take the Ambien, they figure, 'It'll take me 20 minutes to drive home and I want to go to bed as soon as I get home.' That's not the correct way to do it. When you take a medicine, you get into bed."
Many available over-the-counters sleep medications contain Benadryl, and doctors caution while they might make users drowsy, they do not work the same as most prescription drugs. Natural remedies like melatonin, valerian and bedtime herbal teas also have a place, but doctors say they do not usually make for strong sleeping agents. Supplements like melatonin are also not regulated.
"We're using the side effect of sedation from the medication, but then we forget that it does many other things like dry people up, and spread across the entire brain and they last a very long time and it could cause cardiac arrhythmias," says Dr. Joyce Walsleben of NYU Langone Medical Center. "So just saying, 'Oh I'll take a Benadryl' isn't safe as it would be if someone got very appropriate sleep medication by prescription from their physician."
Patients having complications with prescription medications should always see their doctors.
Insomnia may not be the only thing keeping New Yorkers awake. The final part of the series "The Science Of Sleep" covers scientific latest advances in diagnosis and treatment that may help people rest easier.