There are primarily two types of problems we encounter – acute and chronic. Acute problems are the ones that appear all of a sudden, are resolved quickly somehow, and then become a non-issue. Chronic problems normally start out as acute – but they linger.
Often a chronic problem can linger for so long that it becomes normal for you. For many of us, that chronic problem is insomnia. And for many of us, lack of restful sleep becomes normal, but we find a way to soldier on in spite of it.
For those of us with a chronic insomnia issue, the most common way to manage the condition is with a sleeping pill. Often, taking a sleeping pill is the only way we can get any rest, and taking a pill becomes a prerequisite to sleep. This post is for those people.
Long Term Sleeping Pill Use.
Over the long term (depending on the pill itself, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months), researchers have proved that sleeping pill efficacy dwindles. You generally need a larger and larger dose to get the same effect. At some point, the pill is actually doing nothing at all to help you sleep – you’ve just established a physical dependency. This means that your body requires the pill, and when it doesn’t get it, troubling side effects start to appear.
These side effects are most apparent with the common benzodiazapine (and their close cousin, non-benzodiazapine) drugs. You know them by their brand names. Side effects from gradual withdrawal can include cognitive impairment, anxiety, depression, and gastrointestinal problems, among others. In fact, withdrawing from some of these drugs too quickly can be life threatening. In the UK, there is a support group specifically for benzodiazapine and non-benzodiazapine (sometimes called Z-Drug) users.
One of the most common, and most frustrating, side effects of Benzo withdrawl (the drugs are so common, they have a nickname!) is a symptom called rebound insomnia. This is where the gradual tapering of the drug dose produces an insomnia worse than the one it was intended to treat.
Why Quit Sleeping Pills?
A legitimate question, then, is why bother quitting? If we are physically dependent, but we sleep, isn’t that better than not sleeping?
The answer is no.
You are taking a drug (this time, we mean any sleeping pill – regardless of type), that is completely foreign to your body. Many of these drugs are poorly understood, and we’re not sure exactly why they work – we only know that they do. All of them have side effects – an almost universal one is next-day drowsiness and lethargy. For many, that next day hangover is worse than having no sleep at all.
Sooner or later, your conscience or your body will get the better of you and you’ll want to quit the pills.
How To Quit Sleeping Pills
In short, there are four steps involved in quitting the sleep drugs:
- Learn as much as you can about the pill you’re taking – including withdrawal from it. Each drug will have it’s own schedule for its gradual elimination. With Benzos, the taper can take months or years! With most other sleep drugs, the time is much shorter.
- Start the withdrawal with medical supervision. If your doctor refuses to take you off the pill – make sure you understand why (or get another doctor!).
- Establish some base-line sleep habits. Sleep hygiene is where everyone should start.
- Keep with the program – your insomnia will not be cured in days or weeks. It will take months to get clear results – but every week will be a little bit better than the previous one.
Insomnia is cured by re-training yourself how to sleep. In order to re-train, we have to establish patterns and habits that your brain will start to associate with sleep (this is all very subconscious – you won’t know that you’re building a habit). Once these new behaviors take hold, you’ll find that sleep comes more easily.
Re-learning how to sleep can take months, but at the end of it all you’ll be drug free and your nights more restful.
Posted by Doug at BuildBetterSleep