Do you have trouble sleeping? You are not alone – about 70 million people in the United States have sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You need a certain number of sleep hours each night to feel well-rested. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling listless and tired the next day, which reduces your productivity at home and at work. Sleep deprivation can also lead to injuries, chronic diseases, poor quality of life and well-being, mental illnesses, and even increased health care costs.
In a national survey, about 4 percent of Americans ages 20 and over said they used prescription sleeping pills within the previous month . The percentage of people using these Rx sleep aids increased with age and education; women were more likely to use these prescriptions than men.
Use of prescription sleeping aids were higher in people with diagnosed sleep problems: one in six adults with a diagnosed sleep problem use these prescription products, compared with only one in eight adults who had some trouble sleeping. Without prescription sleeping pills, millions of American adults are at a higher risk of uncomfortable and unproductive days, and even at an increased danger for serious health problems.
So, prescription sleeping pills are widely used and often necessary – but are they safe?
Not necessarily. Most individuals who have taken an Rx sleep aid fall asleep about eight to 20 minutes faster than those who have not taken these medications, for example, but the quality of their drug-induced sleep is lacking . In time, lack of quality sleep can cause profound health issues. What's worse is that using prescription pills can lead to abuse and even addiction.
The Hazards of Using Prescription Sleep Aids
Prescription sleeping pill overuse, abuse, and psychological dependence
Using sleeping pills every night or nearly every night for weeks or months on end can create a wide variety of issues that can range from mildly annoying to downright dangerous. Anyone can experience these issues, of course, but people who abuse sleeping pills may be at greater risk.
In most cases, doctors and drug makers agree that consumers should use sleeping pills sparingly and only when necessary. Unfortunately, taking sleeping pills becomes a habit, especially for those with stressful lives or who have conditions that make it difficult to sleep. Using sleeping pills every night can make your body tolerant to the effects of these powerful medications, which means you have to continually take larger doses to get the same results.
Taking sleep aids every night can also cause sleep issues, also known as rebound insomnia, whenever you skip your nightly dose. Rebound insomnia and the ensuing effects of daytime drowsiness can lead to continued abuse as you desperately try to get the sleep you need to function well.
Over time, you can also become psychologically dependent on sleeping pills. Psychological dependence can cause you to crave sleeping pills when you do not have access to them, and to continue taking them despite their negative consequences.
Even when used only as needed, prescription sleeping pill side effects may include :
- Dizziness – extreme or unexpected dizziness may lead to falls
- Diarrhea, nausea, or other gastrointestinal problems
- Prolonged drowsiness, particularly with sleep aids that help you stay asleep longer
- Severe allergic reaction
- Daytime memory and performance problems
- Potentially dangerous behaviors, such as driving when not fully awake
Poor sleep quality
Sleep aids don't actually induce a natural state of sleep – instead, they sedate you. Natural sleep and sedation are two very different things, and one is not a substitute for the other. As "sleep diplomat" and neuroscientist Matthew Walker explains in his recent bestseller, Why We Sleep: "Sleeping pills do not provide natural sleep, can damage health, and increase the risk of life-threatening diseases".
Researchers can see the effects sleeping pills have on the brain. Sleeping pills can reduce the size of brain waves, which are repetitive patterns and rhythms of brain cell activity. Various patterns of brain waves are associated with different states of consciousness, with short, fast beta brain waves indicating a state of alertness and big, long delta waves showing a state of deep sleep .
When you sleep, the signaling cells of the brain pulse together in synchrony to create large brain waves, which are associated with memory enhancement – the larger the brain wave, the better the memory enhancement. Sleeping pills can reduce the size of brain waves, and therefore have the potential to reduce the memory enhancement provided by sleep.
Sleeping pills can also interfere with sleep cycles. When you sleep, your brain moves through four distinct stages. One stage, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, plays an important role in learning, memory, and mood. Sleeping tablets can reduce the amount of REM sleep you get every night, thereby interfering with your ability to learn, remember, and be your usual peppy self.
Increased mortality: potentially a 4x higher risk of death
Using prescription sleeping pills can increase your risk for death. A very large study of more than 10,500 participants over a 2.5-year period found that people who take certain prescription sleeping pills, known as hypnotics, were nearly 5 times more likely to die . Even those using these sleep aids just 1.5 times a month had a 3.6-fold increase in mortality.
Associated with a higher risk of cancer
In this study, hypnotics were also associated with a higher incidence of cancer. In fact, the increased risk of developing lung cancer, lymphoma, prostate and colon cancer among those with prescriptions for sleeping pills was greater than the risk from being a current smoker. Other studies backup these results .
Parasomnias are a group of unusual behaviors that you may experience just before you fall asleep, while you sleep, or as you are waking up. Parasomnias may include:
- Sleep eating disorder
- Sleep hallucinations
- Sleep paralysis – causes you to be unable to move when you are falling asleep or waking up
- Talking in your sleep
- Sleep terrors – waking up in intense fear with barely any or no memory of a nightmare
- Sleep walking
- REM sleep behavior disorder – causes you to act out vivid dreams in your sleep
- Exploding head syndrome
- Confusional arousals – causes you to act in strange and confused ways as you wake up
- Bedwetting – can happen to children or adults
Research shows that taking prescription sleeping pills can increase your chances of experiencing parasomnias. Using Ambien can increase your risk for experiencing a sleep eating disorder, for example, and for sleep walking and even sleep-driving [9,10]. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) even requires the makers of some prescription sleep aids to print a warning on the product boxes that alerts consumers to the potential for "sleep behaviors, including sleepwalking, sleep driving, and engaging in other activities while not fully awake".
If you experience any signs of parasomnia, consult your doctor right away.
An allergic reaction can be a serious complication of using prescription sleep medicine. Signs of an allergic reaction include:
- Hives, which are itchy, raised welts on the skin
- Trouble breathing
- Swelling of your face, lips, throat, or tongue
If you experience any of these signs, stop taking the sleeping pill and seek emergency medical help.
Taking sleeping medications can be dangerous if you have certain health problems, such as:
Chronic lung conditions, including asthma, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as some sleeping pills can slow breathing and even increase your risk of respiratory failure
High blood pressure or heart rhythm problems, known as arrhythmias, because of the risk for slowed breathing and respiratory failure
Liver or kidney disease, which can affect how long the medication stays in your system; the longer the sleep aid stays in your system, the more likely you are to experience daytime drowsiness and impairment
Pregnancy or breast-feeding – the research into the safety of sleeping pills during pregnancy is limited, so doctors may advise avoiding their use or prescribe sleep aids in lower doses
Being older – seniors are more likely to experience the side effects of sleeping pills, especially dizziness, lightheadedness, sedation, confusion, and impaired balance that can increase the risk of falls and injury 
Taking other medications – certain medications can enhance the sedation effects of prescription sleeping pills; these drugs can also change how sleep aids work
When you take some medications for weeks or months at a time, your body can become accustomed (or tolerant) to the effects of the drug. Increased tolerance means you need to take more of the prescription to achieve the same effects, and taking larger doses increases your risk for overdose.
Driving under the influence
Some prescription sleeping pills can remain in your bloodstream for several hours, which means you might still be under the sedative's effects the next day. The lingering effects could impair your ability to drive or operate other heavy machinery.
Difficulty stopping the use of sleeping pills
Psychological dependence, or addiction, can make it extremely difficult to stop using prescription sleeping pills. Typical symptoms of withdrawal from sleeping pills include trouble sleeping, anxiety, restlessness, shivering or circulatory problems. To avoid experiencing these withdrawal symptoms after using prescription sleep aids for a long time, talk to your doctor about either reducing your dosage slowly over time or eliminating their use altogether.
Healthycell's REM Sleep Aid is Your Best Alternative to Prescription Sleeping Pills
If you need a good night's sleep, but are reluctant to take prescription sleeping pills, the REM Sleep aid by Healthycell is your best option. Unlike prescription sleep aids, you can use REM Sleep consistently or just when you need occasional help getting a restful sleep – all without the worries of side effects, unusual behaviors, most drug interactions, or withdrawal symptoms. What's even better is that you don't need a prescription for Healthycell's sleep aid.
You'll have the best chance of great sleep if you combine the REM Sleep product with certain lifestyle changes. Read more on our blog: 12 Pro Tips for Better Sleep Tonight.
Healthycell's REM Sleep supports all four stages of the human sleep cycle with drug-free, non-habit-forming ingredients to help you fall asleep, stay asleep, sleep deeply, and achieve the REM sleep stage.†
All the power of Healthycell's REM Sleep is contained in an easy-to-take gel pack,which contains MICROGEL™, the next-generation nutrient delivery technology that releases extremely small, soluble and ultra-bioavailable nutrient particles in the digestive tract to ensure maximum absorption.
Consider Healthycell's REM Sleep
You can purchase Healthycell's REM Sleep in different servings, so you can choose between storing several months' worth at a time or ordering frequently, depending on your personal needs. You can even sign up for a subscription to receive your Healthycell's REM Sleep on a regular basis – or a 90-serving quarterly subscription, if you desire.
Not sure? Give Healthycell's REM Sleep a try before you buy. Healthycell is so sure that you'll have noticeable benefits that they will send you a 2-day supply free of charge if you cover S&H.