“Insomnia” simply means that a person has trouble sleeping. It also describes the inability to fall asleep after a reasonable amount of time, waking up multiple times during the night or being able to fall back asleep once you wake up. After waking up in the morning, the person afflicted with insomnia may feel tired throughout the day because they can’t get a good night’s sleep. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 50% of adults experience insomnia every once in a while.
Acute insomnia is short-term insomnia that lasts a couple of days or weeks because of a particular event. It can be caused by stress, sleeping in a hotel or another location outside of your home or jet lag. It also occurs when there is excess noise or light in the room.
Chronic Primary Insomnia
Chronic primary insomnia is when a person experiences insomnia at least three times per week for at least 30 days. Chronic primary insomnia isn’t related to a medical condition or a cause of any kind.
Chronic Secondary Insomnia
Chronic secondary insomnia is caused by a medical or psychological condition. It is more common than chronic primary insomnia. Several medical conditions cause chronic secondary insomnia, including ADHD, anxiety, depression, central sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. Medications that treat the disorders listed above may also be the cause of this insomnia.
Medications That Treat Insomnia
People have several medications to choose from to medically treat insomnia, and two of the most popular drugs are Ambien and trazodone.
Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic drug that is also known as a “depressant.” It is also called an “anxiolytic” drug for its antianxiety properties. This drug slows down the activity in the brain so that the person can relax. Physicians prescribe this drug so that their patients can fall asleep easier and remain asleep. It works in a manner that is similar to the stronger tranquilizers, like Valium and Xanax.
Specifically, Ambien increases the amount of GABA, the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter that is located inside the spinal cord and the brain. The parts of the central nervous system include the brain and the spinal cord, and their neurons release GABA that suppresses the actions of the brain’s or the spinal cord’s other neurons. This is what causes the person to become sedated.
Ambien works immediately because its half-life is so short. This means that the body metabolizes the medication quickly so that it doesn’t stay in the body for long periods of time. Because of this, Ambien can help a person fall asleep with a lower dose than the benzodiazepines can. Higher doses may be required if you wake up during the night and are unable to fall asleep again. Extended-release versions of this medication also work well.
After taking Ambien, people become very sleepy, and this feeling remains for a long time afterward. The medical community recommends that people plan to remain in bed for at least seven or eight hours after they take Ambien. If they wake up too soon and try to go about their day, they will feel drowsy and have difficulties with coordination, alertness and memory.
Trazodone was created as an antidepressant, so it works differently than Ambien. It also targets the central nervous system, but it focuses on serotonin. Serotonin is also a neurotransmitter, and trazodone increases its presence in the brain. The medication works by preventing the neurons from taking back the serotonin after it has been released. This makes it a serotonin antagonist reuptake inhibitor. More serotonin in the brain means that the medication can suppress the symptoms of depression.
The chemical composition of trazodone makes it ideal as a medication that mildly sedates individuals, but it doesn’t work particularly well for treating depression. That’s the reason that physicians prescribe this medication primarily as a treatment for insomnia rather than a remedy for depression.
Both Ambien and trazodone cause several side effects. Ambien’s side effects include the following:
- Loss of coordination
- A feeling of being drugged
- Appetite changes
- Strange dreams
- The inability to walk steadily
- Stomach pain or tenderness
- Dry throat or dry mouth
- Muscle cramps
- Pain in the joints, neck or back
- Menorrhagia, or menstrual bleeding that lasts for longer than seven days
- Eye redness
- Ear pain, itching or ringing
- Tingling, numbness, burning or pain in the legs, feet, arms or hands
- Uncontrolled shaking
Trazodone also causes several side effects. These include the following:
- Ringing in the ears
- Red, tired and itchy eyes
- Loss of coordination
- Tingling, burning or numbness in the feet, hands, legs or arms
- Uncontrolled shaking of a body part
- Sexual dysfunction
- Libido changes
- Dry mouth
- Pain in the muscles
- The inability to concentrate
- Unsteady walking
- A bad taste in the mouth
In addition to the side effects listed above, both Ambien and trazodone may cause very serious side effects, which must be treated by your doctor immediately. The most severe side effects usually occur when people are taking larger doses of the medications. Since trazodone doesn’t cause you to become sedated, you may tolerate it better than Ambien. Physicians usually place their patients on a dose of either drug and then wait to find out how it affects them.
Serious Side Effects That Require Medical Attention
Ambien causes the following serious side effects:
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain
- A pounding heart
- Light-colored stools
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing or swallowing difficulties
- Feeling as if the throat is closing
- Throat, tongue, lip, face and eye swelling
Trazodone causes the following serious side effects:
- Unusual bleeding or bruising
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular, pounding or fast heartbeat
- Chest pain
Men may also experience painful erections that last for a very long time if they take trazodone. Men experiencing this condition need to be treated in the emergency room, and some may need to have surgery. A number of these men were left with lasting damage because of it.
Comparing Ambien to Trazodone
The advantages of Ambien include the following:
- It helps people fall asleep quickly, and they remain asleep for a longer period of time.
- You can purchase Ambien as an extended-release tablet that maintains your sleep.
- The generic versions of Ambien are very affordable.
The disadvantages of Ambien include the following:
- You may experience cognitive issues the next day, or it may cause you to feel tired.
- Tolerance develops rather quickly, so you need to increase the dose to obtain the same effects.
- It can produce parasomnias, or unusual behaviors during sleep.
- People with liver or kidney disorders, respiratory issues or a history of depression aren’t advised to take this medication.
- You can become physically dependent upon the drug.
The advantages of trazodone include the following:
- It can treat your sleep issues at lower doses.
- The elderly can take it safely.
- The generic version of trazodone is less costly than Ambien.
The disadvantages of trazodone include the following:
- Higher doses of this medication will be required if you also need to treat depression.
- The higher doses of the medication cause the most side effects.
- It results in sexual dysfunction in men and suicidal thoughts in younger people.
- It does not sedate the person as well as Ambien and doesn’t work for everybody.
Developing a Physical Dependence
Ambien and trazodone may both cause users to develop a physical dependence on the drugs. This results in withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking these medications without tapering off first. You must not stop taking Ambien without speaking to your doctor, but if you haven’t been taking it for at least two weeks, it is imperative that you do not stop taking it without consulting your physician.
Ceasing Ambien can result in several withdrawal symptoms, and these include seizures, uncontrollable shaking, difficulties falling asleep or remaining asleep, panic attacks, nervousness, uncontrollable crying, tiredness, flushing, sweating, nausea, muscle cramps, stomach cramps and lightheadedness. You may also experience changes in your moods or unpleasant feelings.
Deciding to stop taking trazodone without consulting your physician first may result in withdrawal symptoms as well. These include difficulties falling sleep or remaining asleep, agitation and anxiety.
If you want to stop taking either Ambien or trazodone, you will need to decrease the dose several times until you can stop taking it entirely. This gives your body a chance to adjust to lower doses. The withdrawal syndrome that you would experience with Ambien is worse than what you would experience with trazodone, and the likelihood of developing the withdrawal syndrome is greater with Ambien than trazodone.
Is Ambien Better Than Trazodone?
As a sleep aid, trazodone appears to be inferior to Ambien, but Ambien doesn’t help everyone with their sleep issues. The medication that you decide to try will depend on your medical history, the other medications that you are currently taking and your health goals.
Even so, the best remedy for insomnia doesn’t appear to be medications at all. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy is a much better treatment for people to use long term. If you must, you can use Ambien, trazodone or melatonin as a sleep aid, but it should only be a short-term solution for your sleep issues. A better option is to treat the primary cause of your insomnia and learn techniques in cognitive-behavioral therapy. This will help you fall asleep naturally so that you don’t have to endure any of the side effects and withdrawal symptoms listed above.
Getting Help at Granite Recovery Centers
If a mental health disorder was the cause of your sleep issues, you may want to stop taking the medication that was prescribed for your sleep disorder. However, this is not something that you can do on your own. At Granite Recovery Centers, we can place you in our medication-assisted treatment program. Our medical professionals will administer medications so that the detoxification process can be completed without extreme discomfort.
After the drugs have been removed from your system, we will place you in an inpatient treatment program or an outpatient treatment program where you can receive cognitive-behavioral or other therapies.
If the underlying reason for your insomnia is a mental health disorder, we can also treat this at the same time that we treat your substance use disorder. The benefit of treating both of these conditions at the same time is that each disorder can improve with the other so that neither one can influence the other in a negative way.
If you or a loved one need help with a substance use disorder, contact us at Granite Recovery Centers today.