It is an unfortunate truth that overdose on sleeping pills is an occurrence that has become far too common in recent years. For example, more than 70,000 people died in 2019 by overdosing on illicit or prescription drugs, which includes sleeping pills. Tragically, the overdose component of these deaths can occur with many different types of medication, including sedatives that aid with sleep disorders.
What Are Sleeping Pills?
Far too many Americans know the pain of having sleeping trouble. Somewhere between 50-70 million Americans have some sort of sleep disorder, meaning that they have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or getting good quality sleep. This is more than a minor inconvenience: Bad sleep can lead to a dangerous lack of alertness while driving or performing other potentially dangerous activities, poor performance at work, or mood disorders.
Sleeping pills are extremely popular. It’s been reported that 4% of Americans, or 1 in 25 people, have said that they took sleeping pills within the past month.
As a result, many Americans have turned to sleeping pills. These pills do exactly what the name implies: They are medications that can help the brain and the body fall asleep. Different pills work in different ways. Some activate certain brain receptors, like GABA receptors, Melatonin receptors, or Orexin receptors. All of this will ultimately help you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Of course, many medications tend to come with some sort of side effects, and sleeping pills are no exception. The most common side effect of sleeping pills is continued drowsiness, particularly if someone cannot actually sleep for as long as the sleeping pill indicates that they should. Other common side effects include:
- Cognitive difficulties, including a feeling of “brain fog”
- Lack of balance or coordination troubles
- Upset stomach or a change in appetite
- Bizarre dreams
Everyone responds differently to medication, but you may find that the negative impacts of these sleeping pills are not worth whatever benefits they may bring.
What Are Some Common Types of Sleeping Pills?
There are many forms of sleeping pills, including over-the-counter and prescription strength. Over-the-counter pills are often not even pills that are meant to make someone sleepy; instead, they have side effects that are sedative in nature. Examples include:
- Tylenol PM or Benadryl
- ZzzQuil Nighttime
- Melatonin IR/XR
While these sleeping pills are available over the counter, that does not mean they are completely safe to use as they may interact with other forms of medication that you are taking. You should always check with your doctor before taking any of these medications.
There are also many types of prescription-strength sleeping pills that are stronger. They tend to be more effective, but they also have the potential to be more dangerous and addictive. These include:
What Are the Dangers of Sleeping Pills?
The dangers of sleeping pills are real. While many of these risks or issues are manageable, some may have severe side effects. Furthermore, many of these dangers are related directly to the side effects of sleeping pills. Sleeping pills can help someone get to sleep, but they can also cause drowsiness. This, in turn, may have an impact on a variety of activities, like driving or working with heavy machinery. The dangers here are obvious, as any loss of alertness or coordination can create real and dangerous occupational hazards.
Some sleeping pills may be dangerous for a baby if taken by a woman who is breastfeeding. This depends on the dosage and the medication that is being taken, and it is always best if you talk with your doctor before determining whether or not you can take a sleeping pill while nursing or pregnant.
Furthermore, there are medical conditions that may prevent you from taking a sleeping pill, as doing so may further aggravate any number of pre-existing conditions. These include heart problems, kidney problems, liver problems, and more. These dangers are typically more acute with prescription-strength sleeping pills, and you should let your doctor know of any physical issues you may have before taking any sleeping pill.
Like many medications, it is possible to die as a result of a sleeping pill overdose. This is unquestionably the most severe danger of sleeping pill use and something that is common for people who develop a tolerance to sleeping pills or dependence on them.
How Can You Overdose on Sleeping Pills?
Unfortunately, the misuse of sleeping pills or tranquilizers has led to thousands of Americans dying every year. While not as severe a problem as opioid overdoses, it is still a major issue and one that is becoming increasingly common as more and more sleeping pills are prescribed.
An overdose on sleeping pills occurs when someone takes more than the prescribed amount. This may be done intentionally or by accident, but the result is the same either way: Brain and lung function can be suppressed, resulting in death. Some sleeping pills, like barbiturates, are more likely to cause effects like this.
Newer sleeping pills tend to provide less of a risk for overdose and can even be less habit-forming. Overdose danger increases if a sleeping pill is taken with other drugs or alcohol as the substances may work together to have a variety of negative effects on someone.
The danger of overdosing on a sleeping pill increases with time. This is for many reasons. First, someone can become dependent on sleeping pills. This means that a person will need to take sleeping pills in order to sleep, and may be unable to sleep without them. It occurs as someone’s body chemistry changes in order to adapt to taking a medication consistently. This, of course, can be a problem, as no one should require medication in order to sleep.
Furthermore, repeated use of sleeping pills can result in a tolerance to the drug. This means that an individual will need to take more of the drug to achieve the same effect, and this also means that the dangers of taking a sleeping pill will increase. This is one of the many reasons that sleeping pills are usually prescribed for acute sleeping disorders rather than chronic ones as an individual can easily become dependent on them in order to sleep.
Signs of a Sleeping Pill Addiction
Addiction to sleeping pills does not occur as often as it does with other drugs, but it does happen. Addiction, meaning that someone must take sleeping pills in order to function and cannot simply stop taking them, is more common for older pills that produce euphoric side effects. This is very common with medication like tranquilizers or other benzodiazepines that often have sedative effects.
Signs of an addiction include:
- Continually increasing the dose of pills that you take
- Making attempts to quit taking the medication and failing
- Taking them for reasons other than to sleep
Sleeping pill withdrawal does not necessarily occur in the same way that withdrawal from other substances does. Individuals who experience sleep aid withdrawal may experience any number of symptoms, including:
- Total inability to sleep, or highly disrupted sleep
- Increase in blood pressure or heart rate
- Spikes in anxiety
- Cognitive difficulties or disorientation
However, abruptly stopping the use of sleeping aids may be extremely detrimental to someone’s health and sleep patterns. Instead, a preferred strategy is to gradually taper down the dosage of sedatives that a person takes at night, allowing their body’s chemistry to naturally return to equilibrium.
Often, it is better to taper down the use of sleeping pills under medical supervision. Furthermore, seeing a therapist or sleep professional can be very helpful. Since sleep is often tied to a variety of other physical or emotional issues, speaking with a professional therapist or medical doctor may help treat other issues related to your lack of sleep. It may also teach you strategies that can help you sleep at night.
Signs of an Overdose
The signs of a sleeping pill overdose are very similar to the signs of other common types of overdoses. These include:
- Cognitive difficulties or disorientation
- Slurred speech, a lack of coordination, or an inability to speak properly
- Difficulty controlling one’s stomach or bladder
- Slowed breathing and heart rate
- Loss of consciousness
If you suspect that someone has overdosed, you should seek help immediately. An overdose can be reversed, but time is often of the essence, and it is best if you contact emergency authorities immediately.
Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment
Sleeping pill addiction treatment often takes multiple forms. First, you will likely need help breaking the dependency and addiction. With proper guidance, you can learn to taper down the number of pills you take and allow your body to return to a natural state of equilibrium. Working with counselors and sleep specialists can help you in this regard.
However, sleeping pill addiction treatment will likely require that you address the underlying issues that caused a person to become addicted to a medication in the first place. There are many ways that a person can be assisted when it comes to sleeping issues. These include:
- Therapy that can address the underlying emotional challenges behind someone’s difficulty sleeping. Appropriate therapy may also help someone learn strategies that can help them relax at the end of the day, sleep better and put their mind at ease. This therapy can also address the underlying issues that are causing a person to be unable to sleep. These issues can take many forms and often require extensive therapy in order to fully explore them.
- Sleep hygiene strategies: Working with a trained professional on developing appropriate habits that can help them sleep better. This includes limiting screen time, getting into bed at the same time every night, avoiding your bed until it is sleep time, and more.
- Physical contributors: Addressing the underlying physical issues that are causing someone to have a difficult time sleeping. This may include addressing underlying hormonal or pain issues.
While a sleeping pill addiction can be difficult to combat, there is hope. Sleeping pill addiction can be cured, and at Granite Recovery Center, we offer a variety of programs, including a mental health program, residential treatment program and intensive outpatient assistance. You or your loved ones do not have to suffer from any addiction for longer than necessary. If you need help, we are here to offer our services. Please call us today and talk with one of our kind and caring professionals.