Around 9 million Americans use prescription sleeping pills, and 5% of women have used them in the past month. While anyone can suffer from insomnia, it’s the most common in older adults and women. Despite the proven short-term benefits of sleeping aids, new research has found that long-term use of sleeping pills doesn’t lead to better sleep. These findings come from a 2-year long longitudinal study of nearly 200 middle-aged women. 

According to their findings, medications like Ambien, Lunesta and some anti-anxiety prescriptions didn’t relieve the underlying issues or help them get better sleep when compared to women who didn’t take anything. 

The study’s lead author, Dr. Daniel Solomon, told NBC News, “We looked at women who had a similar baseline description of their sleep disturbances and compared those who were still taking the medications after two years to women who had not ever taken them, and we found no difference in sleep outcomes.”

Thankfully, most people can get quality sleep without the help of medication. Here’s what you need to know. 

The Side Effects Can Be Serious

Undeniably, sleep aids can be beneficial in short bursts. However, long-term dependence is discouraged. Here’s the thing about sleeping pills –– they have well-documented side effects. 

Sleep aids carry health risks –– especially for older people who combine them with other medications. When you take sleeping pills over a long period of time, your body builds up a tolerance. Which means you’ll need more and more of it to get the same effect. When you choose to stop taking the pills your body is dependent on, your insomnia may worsen. This is an effect doctors refer to as rebound insomnia.

Side effects of sleeping pills

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Memory and performance issues
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Driving or eating when sleeping

There are ways to use sleeping pills safely and effectively. Keep these tips in mind if you use sleeping pills. 

  • Talk to your doctor –– Before you take anything, you should talk to your doctor to understand any potential drug interactions. 
  • You should only take as directed –– Ignoring directions can lead to dependency or side effects. 
  • Be careful with long-term use –– Sleeping pills are not intended to replace good sleeping habits. 

Medication Isn’t The Only Option

For occasional relief, prescription sleeping pills can provide relief. However, it’s worth noting that you’re getting sedation at night instead of restorative sleep. That said, it’s a viable option for occasional relief when your lack of sleep is impacting your quality of life. 

Medication is only a piece of the puzzle in treating insomnia –- it’s not a long-term solution. It doesn’t solve the root of the problem. Thankfully, there are things you can do to get better sleep before you turn to medication. 

Try To Identify What’s Keeping You Up At Night

46% of people had trouble falling asleep at least one night each week. If you’re consistently having trouble falling asleep, talk to your doctor. Not getting enough sleep can lead to serious medical conditions in the long run –– heart disease, high blood pressure and depression. Not to mention the impact it can have on your daytime functioning and decision-making abilities. 

Just as not sleeping could lead to medical issues, they could also be the source of your trouble sleeping. Sleeping pills are not the answer to chronic sleeping problems. Your doctor will be able to help you determine if a pre-existing medical condition is keeping you up at night. 

Make Smart Bedtime Decisions 

There are also some simple lifestyle changes you can make to sleep better. You might even be doing things you don’t realize contribute to your difficulty sleeping, like drinking caffeine too late in the day or taking long daytime naps. But that’s okay. It happens to the best of us. Being intentional about the choices you make when you’re getting ready for bed can go a long way in helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. 

Here are our tips for getting good sleep: 

  • Try to wake up and go to sleep in the same 20-minute window.
  • Avoid all electronics at least 45 minutes before you go to bed. 
  • Add in relaxing activities –- like reading or yoga –– to your bedtime routine. 
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bed. 
  • Pay attention to your bedroom. Make sure the temperature, lighting and bed are conducive to sleep. 

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

It’s entirely possible to take sleeping pills responsibly and effectively. We’re not here to tell you what is right or wrong for your body. There’s no way to know if one person will experience side effects or not. That said, sleeping pills should never be relied on for long periods. Especially now that research suggests that long-term use doesn’t reduce sleep problems.