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Medications Not the Answer for Insomnia April 17, 2008




AUGUSTA, GA. – (April 8, 2008) – If you are taking “sleeping pills” regularly enough that you question whether you are dangerously dependent, the answer would be, “yes.”

An estimated 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Surveys attribute this skyrocketing figure to our “24/7” society of internet access, TV and retail stores that never close that have our bodies confused about when to sleep.

The number of Americans turning to prescription sleep aids for help has gone up even more dramatically -- nearly 60 percent over the past five years. American pharmacists filled about 42 million sleeping pill prescriptions last year.

Anything to help you sleep, even if it is over-the-counter or purchased in what is considered a “health food store” or as an herbal treatment, should only be taken under the advice of a physician, warned Julie Long, a University Hospital registered nurse and Manager of University’s HealthService Center.

“All drugs, even over-the-counter and herbal remedies, can be lethal,” explained Ms.Long, on Tuesday’s 11 a.m. Healthy U segment on NBC Augusta.

If you are taking medications to help you sleep under the care of a physician, sometimes these are prescribed to be taken "as needed." “You need to stay in contact with your physician to make sure they understand how often you are taking them, especially if you are taking them regularly or are concerned at the frequency,” Ms. Long said.

Insomnia is often a symptom of another condition, Ms. Long said. “If the insomnia is found to be caused by medical or psychological conditions, treatment will focus on those underlying conditions,” she said. “When poor sleep quality itself is the major problem, medications can be prescribed short-term to relieve symptoms.”

Either way, it is important to seek help for insomnia because it weakens the immune system, and also impacts upon our ability to think clearly and function well. “Good quality sleep is vital for a healthy body and mind and for emotional wellbeing,” Ms. Long said.

If your sleeplessness is occasional, try the following tips:

  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine and nicotine can delay your sleep, and alcohol may interrupt your sleep later in the night.
  • If you have trouble sleeping when you go to bed, don't nap during the day, since it affects your ability to sleep at night.
  • Exercise regularly, but do so at least three hours before bed-time. A workout after that time may actually keep you awake because your body has not had a chance to cool down. Exercise should precede meals, not immediately follow them; the first promotes digestion, while the latter, unless moderate, obstructs digestion.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine that will allow you to unwind and send a "signal" to your brain that it's time to sleep. Avoiding exposure to bright light before bedtime may help.
  • Take a warm bath or drinking a glass of warm milk (milk contains a chemical that is converted to a sleep-enhancing compound in the brain) before bedtime.
    • It is often possible to break the cycle of insomnia by deliberately staying awake for an entire night, Ms. Long suggested. If you have more questions about fighting insomnia or need help finding a physician, call ASK-A-NURSE at 706/737-8423.



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