Sleeping Pills : A long term solution to a short term problem?
In my life I would guesstimate that I have spent about five accumulated years, on and off, on some kind of prescription sleeping pill. Between the high cost of filling the prescriptions and the obligatory doctor visits, I have spent upwards of $12,000 on sleeping pills. This cash outlay does not include visits to sleep labs or extensive lab tests and x-rays I have had over the years concerning my chronic insomnia. I even had my uvula* removed as I mistakenly thought that that little hunk of flesh that dangles near the back of my throat had something to do with my inability to fall asleep. If I add all the money I spent on alcohol (as I eventually developed alcohol dependent sleep disorder) and various CD's, nature sound machines and other gizmos and gadgets; I am guessing my insomnia may have cost me somewhere in the 15 to 20 thousand dollar area. Being an insomniac isn't cheap.
How Sleeping Pills Work
Most sleeping pills work by increasing the levels of gamma-amino-butyric acid (AKA GABA) in our big human brains. GABA is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for nerve cell (neuron) excitability or relaxation. The more GABA... the more relaxed our nerve cells become. In other words, pills force our neurons to stop chatting away with each other. At lower doses this relieves anxiety by inducing relaxation and at higher doses it can force unconsciousness. While taking a pill during a chronic bout of insomnia might be just the ticket... remember that it is not natural restorative rest. It works for a few days and then our brains begin to build a tolerance to it.
Medications Have Their Place
Sleeping pills should only be used for a few days! Many years ago I knew a girl who called me in tears because she could not sleep. She was aware of my insomnia and wanted my advice. She also speculated that, because of my insomnia, I would probably be the only person she knew that would be up at 2:00 AM. She said she had not slept for more than an hour or two in any given night for over a week. I implored her to come over and I would give her one of my prescription sleeping pills. She turned my offer down. She said she would not even take an aspirin. She hated all pills. Within two weeks of that night she made the decision that the Big Sleep was better than no sleep at all and took her own life. Now, I am sure other factors were involved in her decision but there have been times that my insomnia was so bad that I wrote a Death Note. Not a suicide note, mind you. I felt my body was under so much stress that I would certainly have a heart attack or a stroke before the night was over and just wanted to give the world a heads-up to my final exit. This type of stress usually occurred at times I did not have a sleeping pill (or a half-pint of vodka, for that matter). Sleeping pills have their place, and that place is only during short-term insomnia.
In retrospect I wish some bright doctor would have handed me a prescription that read:
'Get regular exercise, keep a consistent bedtime pattern, learn relaxation techniques, and visualize. Help your brain help your body to sleep'
It could have saved me tens of thousands of dollars and countless sleepless nights.
*In case you are curious I hade a bifurcated uvula... meaning I had two instead one
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Insomnia can be an indication of a serious underlying health condition. Our opinions are in no way intended to be taken as medical advice. If your insomnia issue warrants it please seek the advice of a qualified physician.
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