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The Hidden Dangers of Prescription Sleep Aids (That Your Doctor Isn't Telling You)

Everyone, at some point in their life, will struggle with getting a good night's sleep. And it can be tempting to ask for a prescription strength sleep aid from your doctor. But before you rush to the pharmacy to fill that script, take a moment to consider the pros and cons of that choice. After all, there's a reason prescription medications - especially sleeping pills - need the approval of a medical doctor and a trained pharmacists before they are given out. These drugs are extremely powerful; sometimes excessively so. They can also have some pretty serious and detrimental side effects. Below, we'll go into detail about why you should be wary of prescription sleep aids, and why they should only be used as a last resort after all other treatments have failed.

Worrisome (and Potentially Dangerous) Side Effects of Rx Sleeping Pills

Every prescription medication these days seems to come with a laundry list of side effects that patients need to watch out for. But it's the side effects that you aren't warned about which can pose the greatest risk to your health. These include:

New Studies Linking Sleeping Pills to Cancer. A recently published study in the journal of BMJ Open, an indexed and highly reputable scientific journal, exposes a link between use of prescription sleeping pills, elevated mortality rates, and positive cancer diagnoses. So far, there is only a strong association between sleeping pills and cancer; a causal relationship hasn't been proven (yet). But buried data from FDA review of prescription sleeping pills suggests causation. In high doses, these drugs did cause lab rats to develop cancerous tumors. For unknown reasons, however, this data hasn't been published in any sources of reputable scientific literature.

Sleeping Pill Withdrawal. Quitting sleeping pills "cold turkey" may not be as dangerous as quitting hard drugs like alcohol or opioid painkillers, but it can cause its own assortment of unpleasant side effects. Irritability, anxiety, panic attacks, and rebound insomnia are just the tip of the iceberg. Many people may continue taking sleep medications simply to avoid these negative consequences, creating an unhealthy dependence.

What You Don't Know You're Doing in Your Sleep Might Kill You. In some individuals, the body and certain parts of the brain remain active even when consciousness is shut off by their sleep medication. People may walk around, drive, or binge-eat while completely unaware. Needless to say, this behavior can lead to falling injuries, car accidents, and more. Sleeping pills are also dangerous for those who suffer from sleep apnea. Prescription sleeping pills are known to increase the frequency and intensity of breathing cessation during sleep, putting people at a greater risk for hypoxia and death.

What Other Options Are There?

Although your sleep troubles may seem intractable, there are alternatives. The two main sleep therapies, other than prescription strength sleeping pills, are over-the-counter sleep medications and nonprescription herbal sleep aids.

Over The Counter

There is a lot to discuss with regard to the safety of over the counter sleep medications. Here is the quick and dirty summary:

  • Some correlative studies have linked OTC sleeping pills to higher risks for dementia in the elderly
  • OTC sleep meds interact dangerously with certain prescription medications and medical conditions
  • Although they are advertised as "non-habit forming", many people do develop a physiological and/or psychological dependence on them
  • They often cause (sometimes debilitating) next-day drowsiness
  • Excessive doses can damage your liver, kidneys, your central nervous system, and may even lead to coma or death

As you can see, both prescription and over the counter sleep aids come with some potentially worrisome side effects. So what should you take if you're having trouble sleeping? We have a simple (and affordable) answer for that.

Natural Sleep Aids

There are plenty of safe, natural, herbal remedies out there designed to help people with sleep issues. Many of them contain relaxation-inducing ingredients such as hops, melatonin, passionflower, and more. These ingredients are generally well-tolerated, have a very low risk of contraindication with most meds and diseases, and won't leave you feeling groggy the next day. What's not to like?

As with any supplement you might be taking, it's best to consult with your doctor first. Unfortunately, most herbal remedies aren't suggested by doctors due to a lack of education on their efficacy. Therefore, it's your job as an educated consumer to do your research and find the solution that's right for you.

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