What’s the problem with sleeping tablets

Why are doctors reluctant to prescribe sleeping tablets?

Difficulty sleeping or insomnia is a common problem and although most people experience short periods of insomnia at some time in their lives, for the some the problem is long term and significantly affects the quality of their lives.  Patients suffering with insomnia frequently consult their doctor to request a prescription for medication to help them sleep and whilst useful in some circumstances ‘sleeping tablets’ are best avoided in most circumstances.

Prescriptions for sleeping tablets are associated with a number of problems:

Drowsiness and clumsiness
People taking sleeping tablets are known to suffer more accidents, such as falls and road traffic accidents. Older patients are at significant increased risk of falling.

Mood and mental changes
Some people become more aggressive, confused, forgetful or depressed on these medicines.

Dependence and tolerance
Your body can quickly get used to taking sleeping tablets and as a result, if sleeping tablets are taken regularly they quickly lose their effect. Some people become dependent or addicted to sleeping tablets and symptoms can occur if tablets are stopped suddenly. Typical withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, shaking or just feeling awful.

Drug abuse
Sleeping tablets are used and sold on the street and are one of the medicines most commonly used by addicts. We know that some tablets are sold on by people who receive them by prescription.

If a sleeping tablet is prescribed

If you are prescribed a sleeping tablet it will only be for a short time, one or two weeks at the most. Please do not ask for more as this may lead to dependency. If you are taking a sleeping tablet and you feel drowsy the next day, do not drive or operate machinery. Avoid alcohol when you are taking sleeping tablets. Never give your sleeping tablets to anyone else and always keep them in a safe place, such as a locked cupboard.

How do I stop taking sleeping tablets

If you have been taking sleeping tablets on a regular for more than a couple of weeks you must not stop them suddenly. Stopping sleeping tablets suddenly may result in withdrawal symptoms, that in some cases can be severe, always seek the advice of your doctor.

When reducing your sleeping tablets, you may experience a period of worse sleep for a while, this is normal and will normally improve if you are patient. The majority of people who are successful in reducing or stopping taking sleeping tablets report feeling better for it.

As people get older we tend to need less sleep. Sleep problems are common and are unlikely to harm you. Good sleep patterns can take weeks to establish, so be patient and avoid taking sleeping tablets which offer no long term solution to the problem.

Tips for getting a good nights sleep:

  • Avoid coffee, tea, alcohol, cola and smoking after 6.00pm. Relaxing drinks such as camomile, Horlicks, or Ovaltine may help.
  • Avoid snoozing in the day
  • Wait until you are sleepy tired before going to bed.
  • Make sure your bed and bedroom are comfortable.
  • Take regular exercise.
  • Don’t read or watch television in bed.
  • Set the alarm for the same time every day of the week.
  • If you are awake for more than 20minutes, get up and go to another room.