When Counting Sheep Fails: The Latest Sleep Medications
Is the new generation of sleeping pills the answer for insomnia?
A Tour of Today’s Sleep Aids continued...
These drugs aren’t all created equal: Valium, for example, has a much longer
half-life (about 6-8 hours) and therefore stays in your system a lot longer
than Halcion, which has a 3-4 hour half-life.
Antidepressants: Insomnia is a common symptom of
depression. Thus, some antidepressant drugs, such as Trazodone, are
particularly effective in treating sleeplessness and anxiety that's caused by
depression, even though they are not specifically approved by the FDA for the
treatment of insomnia.
"In those cases, the antidepressant helps treat the sleep problem, but is
really treating the underlying cause," says Arand. Could your insomnia be
linked to depression? If you think you have other symptoms, talk to your doctor
about this possibility.
Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids: Most of these sleeping pills,
such as Sleep-Eze, are antihistamines. This means they're somewhat sedating and
can cause some drowsiness the next day. They're safe enough to be sold without
a prescription, but if you're taking other drugs that have similar effects --
like cold or allergy medications -- you could inadvertently take too much.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reviewed research on these sleep aids
in 2006 and concluded that they may provide “modest, short-term benefits,” but
“sufficient evidence does not exist to support over-the-counter sleep aids as
an effective treatment for insomnia.”
Combining Medicine With Good Sleep Habits
Roth suggests that it's time to start thinking about insomnia as a chronic
disorder -- which he notes that it is in at least 10% of the population -- and
treating it that way. "For people who have high cholesterol, you don't just
give them a drug to lower their cholesterol and that's the end of it," he says.
"You also work with them on other factors in their life that may be elevating
Similarly, he says, sleep medications for insomnia should not be used in
isolation. "You want to use them in conjunction with good sleep practices, good
behavioral therapies, and treating accompanying conditions," he says. That
means, among other things, practicing "good sleep hygiene":
- Use your bed only for sleeping, not for paying bills or working on your
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol for four to six hours before going to
bed, and don't exercise too late in the evening.
- Make sure your bedroom is restful and quiet. Get a sleep mask or white
noise machine if you can't block out light or noise from outside.
- Get up and go to bed at the same time every day -- yes, even on