Sleep Aids: Find the Best One for You

Sleep Aids…What’s Available?

Sleep Aids ZZZSleep aids are most often thought of as pills or supplements. However, an effective sleep remedy may come in the form of therapy or even an innovative electronic device.

With a growing epidemic of sleep deprivation in our society today, drug and supplement companies are marketing more remedies to Insomni-America.

Although quick and convenient, pills treat only the symptoms of insomnia. However, they may be just what you need for some sleep disorders.

Sleep therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, is gaining momentum as a drug-free treatment aimed at removing the cause of insomnia. Also, sleep technology is providing innovative devices that help identify and address the issues that cause sleeplessness.

Sleep Aids: The Options

Learn about the different types of sleep aids and find out which ones can provide you with the best chance for long-term sleep success.

1. Prescription Sleep Aids

Your doctor may be the first person to advise against using prescription sleep aids. Yet 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills were filled in the US during 2012.

With that said, prescription pills may be helpful to treat sleeplessness due to temporary conditions like stress, travel or a medical procedure.

Several different prescription sleep aids are available – and they all affect the body differently. The most prescribed sleep aids, called hypnotics, include the older benzodiazepines and the newer non-benzodiazepines.

•  Benzodiazepine hypnotics (includes Restoril, Ativan, Valium)

Benzodiazepines can be highly effective by increasing your total sleep time. However, these pills do not let your body cycle through the most restful stage of sleep – deep sleep. In addition, they tend to linger in your system. Users typically feel groggy or hungover the next day.

•  Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics (includes Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata)

Shorter-acting non-benzodiazepines can speed up sleep onset, but they may not get you all the way through the night. And, although the risk of dependency is less, the chance for bizarre behavior is greater. In the morning, you may find crumbs in the bed, or answering questions about a call you don’t remember making.

Prescription sleep aids are for short-term use – up to a month max for hypnotics, according to FDA guidelines. They lose their effectiveness when taken over time. Increasing the dosages is not recommended and may lead to addiction.

Prescription aids should be taken only after consulting with, and under the supervision of, a doctor or health care professional.

2. Natural Sleep Aids

Probably about 40 to 50 herbs and supplements are currently advertised as natural sleep aids. However, only about 4 or 5 of them have any hard evidence that support their claims.

Natural sleep aids are considered safer than both prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids, mainly because they are gentle and the side-effects are mild. However, herbs and supplements are not currently regulated by the FDA. This means that the claims by manufacturers stating effectiveness, potency and purity may be misleading.

The most well-known natural sleep aid, melatonin, is a synthetic reproduction of a sleep hormone that is naturally produced by the body. Melatonin’s primary role in the body is to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. (Find out more about melatonin supplements for sleep.)

Another very popular sleep aid that has shown effectiveness is the valerian root herb. This herb has been used for centuries to treat insomnia and anxiety. The chamomile herb is yet another popular sleep aid that is typically served up as tea.

Side-effects from natural sleep aids are possible, especially if taking other medications or drugs. If this is the case, consulting with a health care provider is recommended.

3. Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids

Over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids are widely available and may be effective for an occasional night of sleeplessness.

However, most OTC sleep aids contain antihistamines as principle ingredients. And, the body quickly develops a tolerance to the antihistamines’ sedative effects. Since aids with antihistamines are generally taken for colds and allergies, taking them for solely for sleep purposes usually results in unintended side-effects.

OTC aids usually include the following sedating antihistamines:

•  Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Nytol. Sominex)

•  Doxylamine (Unisom, Nighttime Sleep Aid)

Side-effects can be severe with OTC aids. They include drowsiness, dizziness or forgetfulness the next day. Most sleep experts advise against using OTC sleep aids because of the side effects. Also, long-term safety has yet to be determined.

Talking with a health care provider or pharmacist is recommended before taking OTC medications for sleep.

4. Sleep Therapy

Sleep therapy is a way to treat insomnia without drugs. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (also known as CBT-I) is a relatively new and growing sleep therapy that addresses the underlying causes of sleeplessness.

Although neither a quick nor a short-term sleep solution, sleep therapy is far safer and can be much more effective than sleeping pills.

Sleep therapy, including CBT-I, is usually structured as a formal program. The goal is to identify and change the specific habits and behaviors (see sleep hygiene) that are causing your sleeplessness.

New innovations bring this therapy within reach of many – both in terms of cost and convenience. In the not-so-distant past, you had to go to a lab to be monitored while being wired-up like Frankenstein. In return, you were rewarded with complex sleep data that only a technician could understand. Now, innovative personal sleep trackers accurately monitor and report sleep data. The trackers’ apps also provide easy-to-understand feedback and recommendations.

More good information on sleep therapy can be found in the best-seller “Say Goodnight to Insomnia”, (based on a successful program that was developed and tested at Harvard Medical School).

5. Sleep Technology

Most electronic devices have deservedly received a bad reputation in the bedroom because they hinder sleep. However, advances in technology now bring valuable electronic gadgets back into the bedroom to help treat sleeplessness.

Sleep tracker – provides sleep cycle data

Your journey through the sleep stages provides critical information that is useful when trying to improve sleep. A personal sleep tracker can accurately track and display your sleep data by monitoring your own unique physical characteristics.

Based on the data the tracker receives, the app can also deliver a range of actionable recommendations to help you make improvements to your sleep.

Sleep system – monitors and improves sleep environment

When addressing sleep problems, your environment is invariably the first place to start. A smart sleep system can help by monitoring and optimizing key sleep-related metrics in your bedroom environment.

A sleep system can monitor and help control light and sound levels – both at night and in the morning. It can also monitor room temperature, and in some cases even integrate with a Nest thermostat.

Sleep sensors paired with the device also provide a comprehensive look at your sleep stats. Not only does it accurately track your sleep data, but it can also awaken you at the optimal time based on your sleep cycle.

Light therapy – optimizes the body’s sleep-wake cycle

Light is one of the biggest natural influencers of your body’s sleep rhythms. LED technology has enabled significant advances in insomnia treatment through the use of light therapy.

During the evening, innovative LED lighting can filter out the offending blue light wavelengths that hinder your sleep hormone production.

In the morning, simulated sunlight can help you start your day more alert and energized. This translates to a reinforced circadian rhythm that can provide sounder sleep at night.

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