In case you’re keeping score, the FDA has been caught asleep at the wheel yet again. After ten years of being on the market, they’ve finally admitted that for more than 11 hours after taking Lunesta, the sleeping pill's side effects may severely impair a user’s memory, coordination and ability to perform everyday tasks.
You know… tasks like driving a two-ton car down the same highway your child’s school bus takes.
It was about five years ago now that I first started warning you about a frightening side effect of some popular sleep drugs: “sleep driving.” Sleep driving is a peculiar, sleep-walking-like behavior in which sleeping pill users drive their cars… or do other activities like making complete meals… while not fully awake.
Shockingly, some sleep drivers have no memory (or only a hazy recollection at best) of even having driven their car at all. Like, for example, the Boise, Idaho man who was pulled over for suspected drunk driving, but who turned out to be driving sound asleep under the influence of a popular prescription sleeping pill.
To make matters worse, these drugs have skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade. With around 55 million prescriptions written for these heavy-duty drugs in the United States alone last year, you can see the danger these under-discussed sleeping pill side effects put all of us in every single time we step out of our homes.
Shocking sleeping pill side effects
But if you’re a sleep-drug user, that’s far from the only danger you may face. According to a study I first told you about back in 2012, regular sleeping pill users were nearly five times as likely as non-users to die over the two-year study period. Plus, sleeping pill users also had a 35 percent increased chance of developing cancer.
And if you’re in your Golden Years, sleeping pill side effects could put you at an increased risk for falls, hip fractures and dementia.Then there’s the research linking another popular sleep drug, Ambien, to a staggering 50 percent jump in heart attack risk.
But it was another potential sleeping pill side effect—one that it appears to share with kissing cousin Lunesta—that forced the feds out of their lastnap. Ambien can result in next day “psychomotor impairment,” which may lead to users driving high without even knowing it.
Finally, in a rare moment of strength from the dishrag agency, after almost eight years of it being on the market, the FDA admitted last year that doses of Ambien—and other zolpidem-containing sleeping pills—should be sliced in half for women. They also strongly suggested that health-care providers “consider” lowering the dose for men as well.
Now after ten years of Lunesta users unwittingly driving, operating heavy machinery and doing goodness-knows-what else while still stoned, the FDA has finally admitted that there’s a potential problem with this drug as well. They’ve told the pill’s manufacturers to slash the starting doses for these potentially dangerous drugs in half, for both men and women.
And sure, that’s a start. But the better move is to find a way OFF of these drugs completely. Because besides the laundry list of troubling—and in some cases even potentially deadly—sleeping pill side effects, they’re just not very effective. One UK survey found that up to 42 percent of people taking the drugs find little relief from their insomnia, even after years of use.
Sleeping pills fall flat
And even if you’re one of the lucky ones for whom sleeping pills “work,” you’re really not getting a whole lot of benefit in exchange for all those risks. One study found that prescription sleep med users drop off to sleep, on average, just 22 minutes faster than non-drug users.
Now, I understand that if you’re desperate for a little shut eye, even 22 minutes could sound pretty tempting. But it probably will sound less so when you learn that placebo takers fell asleep after just 42 minutes. In other words, you may be risking a heart attack, dementia, or even cancer for just 20 measly minutes of extra sleep.
The good news is that there are safe natural ways to conquer your insomnia without experiencing any of those troubling sleeping pill side effects. Starting with the most obvious, if you’re a poor sleeper it’s time to deep six caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and soda. Then there are the often overlooked stimulants that you should avoid too close to bedtime like chocolate, ginseng, B12 and most processed foods.
Next, turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Get rid of any glowing or blinking electronic equipment and install black-out shades if you need them. If you’ve got a TV in the bedroom get rid of it. Make sure the temperature is just right for sleeping (slightly cooler is better). And ban backlit devices like tablets and cell phones for at least one hour before bedtime.
If you’ve made those changes and find you’re still having trouble getting your shut-eye, then l-tryptophan, GABA, chamomile or melatonin (if you’re over 40 for that last one) might do the trick. If anxiety is at the heart of your sleeping woes, then magnesium, red clover and even a probiotic may help.
A doctor skilled in natural medicine can help you decide which combination of natural sleep supplements will work best for you.