The Beginner’s Guide To Sleep Aids: Are Sleeping Pills Right For You?

sleep aids sleeping pills spilling from bottle
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Sleep aids of all kinds flood the market, from over-the-counter pills, such as melatonin, to prescription drugs like Ambien. Then there are sleep-inducing teas like chamomile, valerian root, and lavender to help ease you into dreamland.

But do these sleep aids work? Are they conducive to your long-term mental health? Do they cure insomnia and other sleep disorders? Do they help you catch up on missed sleep?

Let’s find out.

The Beginner’s Guide To Sleep Aids: Are Sleeping Pills Right For You?

I keep hearing that the world is a much better place now than it was a century ago. Statistics show that global poverty rates are at their lowest and that life expectancy has more than doubled since 1850.

So if things are peachy keen, then why is it that one in three adults don’t get enough sleep at night? Even before COVID hit, studies were spotlighting a correlation between mental health and sleep quality. The results weren’t surprising: Poor mental health can affect sleep quality, taking a turn for the worse.

The answer, for some people, is to fight restlessness by ingesting sleeping pills before bed. This trend has become so popular that it’s now one of the leading sleep solutions for insomniacs.

Sure, you can sucker-punch insomnia in the face by following a medically assisted, regulated program involving prescription drugs like Ambien and Lunesta. But when sleeping pills sucker-punch you in the jaw with their host of dangerous side effects, from dependency to cognitive impairment, things can get real tragic real fast.

Sleep aid misuse has gotten so bad, in fact, that a bleak study on the effects of sleep aids found that they can dramatically increase the risk of death by four times compared to non-users.

Um. Yikes?

flay lay yellow red sleeping pills pink bckground

The Science Behind Sleep Aids

Many people flock to sleep aids because they’re unaware of the alternatives available to them. Others take sleeping pills as prescribed by medical professionals. But do these drugs live up to their reputations?

The short answer is no. Sleep medications, sleep supplements, and sleep teas are often not effective in the long term. While these sleep aids may lull you into sleep quickly at first, they lose effectiveness over time because your body’s tolerance level for them increases rapidly. As sleeping pills become less effective, sleep quality begins to suffer.

Toss in sleep aids’ tendency to cause side effects, such as sleepwalking, sleep driving, and sleep texting (yup, you heard that right), and you have a sleep “solution” that’s more trouble than it’s worth.

No Sleep Aid is an Island

If you’ve been suffering from sleeplessness for longer than two weeks (this is the time it takes for your body’s sleep regulatory system to adjust), it might be wise to consider other sleep solutions, such as better sleep scheduling and sleep hygiene.

If you truly want to improve your sleep quality, you need to sleep well enough to sleep better, not sleep a little bit now and then.

You also need to consider sleep aids as part of an overall treatment plan and not a sleep solution unto themselves. By themselves, sleep aids result in little more than short-term benefits because they don’t treat the root cause of your sleeplessness.

By the way, what is the root cause of your sleeplessness? Have you paused to ask yourself? Because this is the million-dollar question.

If there’s a biological or chemical component to your sleep deprivation, such as the DEC2 gene, then your mission for improved sleep will take a different shape than someone who suffers from depression, stress, or anxiety regularly.

woman restless awake in bed poor sleep

The ABCs of Sleep Hygiene

What is sleep hygiene? Well, sleep hygiene is the term used to describe practices that are conducive to sleeping well. Ready for some sleep-hygiene basics?

Here are five:

1. Stick to a sleep schedule, even on weekends. Sleep deprivation, like sleep itself, is all about consistency.

2. Start winding down at least an hour before bedtime by avoiding bright lights and digital screens.

3. Sleep on a comfortable surface that helps you sleep well.

4. Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Noise has sleep-hacking superpowers.

5. Exercise a few times a week, eat your veggies, and sleep seven to nine hours every night.

Dreamy Sleep Hygiene Tips for Insomniacs

Poor sleep hygiene is one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation. Sleep hygiene refers to any behaviors that could interfere with your sleep quality and quantity, such as watching television before bed or staying up late on social media.

By improving sleep hygiene, you can improve the quality of your sleep by reducing time spent in light sleep phases. Sleep hygiene is also an effective sleep treatment for insomnia, sleep deprivation, sleep start behaviors, sleep talking, and sleep paralysis.

To improve your sleep hygiene, focus on good sleep habits. Simply put: The more quality sleep time you get per night, the better your sleep will be. Experts recommend limiting sleep to eight hours per night. But the right time frame will ultimately be decided by your internal sleep/wake cycle (or circadian rhythm), which varies from person to person.

To sleep well, sleep in a cool environment (between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit) in a dark room with low amounts of noise pollution.

Make your bedroom into a sleep haven by removing all electronic devices such as TVs and computers from the sleep environment.

If you’re going to take sleep-inducing supplements (because I can’t sucker-punch you into not taking them), do so responsibly (ideally under a medically controlled program) until you can ween yourself out of medication and into blissful sleep aided by your body’s natural response to drowsiness.

woman blue pajamas sleeping puffy clouds

The Bottom Line on Sleeping Pills

In a nutshell, sleep aids can be useful in the short term but they are not effective sleep solutions in the long run. This is because they only address sleep deprivation issues while ignoring other factors that could be the underlying causes of your shitty sleep quality.

If you’re looking for long-term sleep aid benefits, it pays to look into mindfulness and self-awareness practices that will help you reach a state of equanimity. You should also pay attention to your lifestyle choices and ask yourself if they’re helping you count sheep at night.

For instance, are you exercising? Are you meditating? Are you suffering from job burnout?

These are important questions to ruminate on and take action to improve. Doing so will help you catch more of those well-deserved ZZZs and help your body do the job of inducing sleep naturally; a job that shouldn’t be relegated to sleeping pills.

And now, if you’ll allow me just one more use of the word “sucker-punch” for no good reason other than I get a kick out of it, I’ll be temporarily indebted to your kindness, which is a nice thought that could very well carry you into a blissful sleep.

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