Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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The Stress Monster Loves Sleeping Pills



                                The Stress Monster Loves Sleeping Pills!


In writing an update about controlling stress and improving sleep, it occurred to me that I should research the effects of pharmaceutical medications commonly used for sleep. More and more people are just "popping a pill" instead of using the wisdom of the body to relax and glide into peaceful dreamland. If you are using these medications or are considering their use: READ THIS NOW!


Are these medications even effective? Drug companies cite research that these medications improve sleep. Yes, but what is the average length of sleep improvement?  An analysis of sleeping pill research found that the average improvement in total sleep time with drugs such as Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata was 11.4 minutes!  Other research found that long-term sleeping pill users actually had more nighttime awakenings than drug-free insomniacs.


Why are sleeping medications so popular when their effectiveness is so limited? These drugs are sedative-hypnotics which depress brain functioning, interfering with cognitive ability to make or store new memories. This condition, anterograde amnesia, impairs nighttime memory. You may be tossing and turning and losing sleep during the night, then simply forget these events.  


What other problems are caused by these drugs?  The FDA requires warning labels about "complex sleep-related behaviors" which sometimes occur during the night under the influence of these drugs including eating, talking, and even driving! Nighttime falls and injuries and hallucinations are sometimes reported. Users may take extra pills during the night, compounding the drug affects. Although the individual under the influence of these drugs may appear conscious, their behaviors may be quite inappropriate or dangerous and they will have no memory of these events. You may recall hearing about US Congressman Patrick Kennedy who was arrested driving erratically at 3 AM under the influence of sleeping pills.  Kennedy stated, "I simply do not remember getting out of bed, being pulled over by the police, or being cited for three driving infractions."  You can find alarming testimonials on the Internet about these types of effects. The FDA also warned about severe allergic reactions and facial swelling.


What about ongoing effects of the drugs? Users report daytime fatigue, impairments in memory, concentration and performance. These medications are habit-forming and often result in rebound insomnia.  Serious effects are seen when these drugs are used in combination with alcohol.


Stress and insomnia do go hand in hand, so how can we get a good night’s sleep? I did report on a number of sleep remedies in two articles on Sleep for Health in the Reading Room of my website, Many of those suggestions can be implemented at night. So for today's article I'll mention considerations for morning and afternoon. The body does regulate sleep according to circadian rhythms. Exposure to bright natural or full spectrum light in the morning will preset the body’s melatonin cycles for deep restorative sleep that night. Exercise in the morning also stimulates the body's natural rhythms, while exercise at night may be over-stimulating.  Most people are not aware that caffeine, energy drinks, sugar and other stimulants may have long-lasting effects so should be used sparingly or not at all after noon. The half-life of coffee is six hours, so the effects often persist into the bedtime hours.  When sleep deprived individuals use these stimulants to keep functioning during the afternoon they may inadvertently cause insomnia that evening.


Want some good ideas for rest at night? Consider self-hypnosis which can be very effective in inducing restorative sleep. You might try Deep Sleep, a CD available from Dr. Steven Gurgevich (  My clients who have tried this CD have found the third induction on disc 2 particularly helpful. You may have to practice use of this induction several times for maximum effectiveness. Another innovative idea is to use a light stimulation device which entrains the brain and body into a state of deep relaxation. (Relax-Mate II designed by Dr. Norman Shealy,  If you want to pop a pill, consider supplements for relaxation which also facilitate sleep.


While the stress monster is making lots of money on these drugs, you and I can instead experience some healthy drug-free zzzz’s!