SLEEP­ING PILLS

POP­PING A PILL CAN BE A QUICK FIX FOR IN­SOM­NIA, BUT DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TAK­ING? BY Gina Flax­man

Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - HEALTH FOCUS - To get help wean­ing your­self off sleep­ing tablets, call 1300 273 266 or visit www.re­con­nex­ion.org.au

WHAT ARE THEY?

There are sev­eral types of sleep­ing pills. Some are only avail­able with a pre­scrip­tion, such as ben­zo­di­azepines. These are a group of drugs that slow down the brain and cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem and are used to re­duce anx­i­ety, re­lax the body and help with sleep. There are about 30 dif­fer­ent types and each can be sold un­der sev­eral brand names. The most well-known brand name, Val­ium, is the generic drug di­azepam. Dif­fer­ent types of ben­zo­di­azepines work for dif­fer­ent lengths of time.

The z-drugs – zolpi­dem, zo­pli­cone and zale­plon – are also only avail­able on pre­scrip­tion and have a sim­i­lar af­fect to ben­zo­di­azepines.

Most over-the-counter pills con­tain an­ti­his­tamines as the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent. They are also used to treat al­ler­gies and hay fever and are not as pow­er­ful as ben­zo­di­azepines or z-drugs.

There are also a num­ber of “nat­u­ral” sleep­ing tablets. Most con­tain the herb va­le­rian or the hor­mone mela­tonin. Mela­tonin is made in the brain by the pineal gland and af­fects our in­ter­nal body clock and sleep cy­cle.

The Aus­tralian Con­sumers’ As­so­ci­a­tion says va­le­rian is the most pop­u­lar nat­u­ral sleep­ing aid as it has un­der­gone the high­est num­ber of tri­als. Other pills con­tain herbs such as pas­sion­flower, hops and chamomile and min­er­als such as cal­cium, mag­ne­sium and vi­ta­mins B6 and K.

THE PROS

Pre­scrip­tion tablets are very pow­er­ful. They may be pre­scribed for a short time to get you over a bad bout of in­som­nia.

A Har­vard Med­i­cal School study found that mela­tonin tablets may help peo­ple whose sleep pat­terns are dis­rupted by shift work or travel across time zones.

Herbal sleep­ing pills have fewer side ef­fects than the other pills.

THE CONS

Pre­scrip­tion pills have sev­eral side ef­fects that can last from a few hours to a few days, depend­ing on the dose and type of drug. Side ef­fects in­clude drowsi­ness, con­fu­sion, dizzi­ness, blurred vi­sion, clum­si­ness, mood swings and poor me­mory.

Your body de­vel­ops a tol­er­ance for pre­scrip­tion pills af­ter be­tween three and 14 days of con­tin­ued use and you will need to in­crease the dose. Some peo­ple also be­come de­pen­dant on them and have with­drawal symp­toms, such as anx­i­ety and shak­ing, when they stop tak­ing them.

An­ti­his­tamines are not as strong as pre­scrip­tion drugs, but can still cause drowsi­ness the next day. “Side ef­fects in­clude dif­fi­culty uri­nat­ing, uri­nary re­ten­tion, dry mouth and blurred vi­sion. Peo­ple quickly de­velop a tol­er­ance to them,” says Dr Lynn Weekes, Na­tional Pre­scrib­ing Ser­vice CEO.

The ben­e­fits of mela­tonin pills are still un­proven, says the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Berkeley. Al­though they help peo­ple fall asleep faster, them may not help them stay asleep and may cause drowsi­ness the next day.

A Choice mag­a­zine study found that most herbal sleep­ing pills had no ef­fect on in­som­nia. There have also been rare re­ports of liver dam­age from va­le­rian use and it can cause headaches and stom­ach up­sets.

WHEN NOT TO TAKE THEM

You should not take pre­scrip­tion sleep­ing pills if you are on an­tide­pres­sants, preg­nant or a new mother. You should not drink al­co­hol or drive while tak­ing them.

An­ti­his­tamines may in­ter­act with other med­i­ca­tions, in­clud­ing an­tide­pres­sants, and shouldn’t be taken by peo­ple with asthma, epilepsy or glau­coma.

Tell your doc­tor if you are tak­ing herbal sleep­ing tablets as they may af­fect other con­di­tions or in­ter­act with med­i­ca­tions.

DID YOU KNOW? About 10 mil­lion scripts are writ­ten ev­ery year for

sleep­ing tablets

Source: Re­con­nex­ion, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that treats tran­quil­liser depen­dency

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