With uncertain economic times and the responsibilities of their busy lives, it’s no wonder that many of my patients are having a hard time sleeping these days! So what do they do? Many of them take the nation’s bestselling sleeping pill Ambien, to help them sleep better.
From my experience and research I have mixed feelings about this drug. Yes, Ambien can help you get to sleep initially. In fact, it does a good job of it in the first few weeks. However, it can start to lose its effectiveness rather quickly and you may wind up taking more Ambien to get to sleep. This can become a serious and dangerous problem.
Though the FDA has cleared Ambien as being safe if taken as directed, Ambien does carry a long list of “complex sleep behaviors” as side effects. Let me explain…
The Weird, Half-Asleep World of Ambien Users
There are a lot of prescription sleep drugs out on the market today, but none of them have gained the reputation that Ambien has. In fact, a few years ago, a writer for the New York Times coined a new category of reckless driving called Ambien driver.
It’s no wonder, either. Ambien has been implicated in such a high number of traffic accidents across the country that forensic experts started studying the phenomena. ‘Ambien drivers’ are people who literally are driving half-asleep! Needless to say, they are a serious safety hazard.
Not only are Ambien users driving while sleeping, they are also having telephone conversations, and cooking and eating food! In fact, one woman on Ambien reported gaining 100 lbs from sleep eating! Even more interesting, Ambien users cannot remember doing any of these things!
In fact, there are more stories of strange and dangerous behavior of people who take Ambien, than there are stories of people who have done well without side effects while on it. Some of these behaviors have included:
- Making large amounts of purchases from the cable shopping channel.
- Painting their houses, or children, while they’re sleeping.
- Engaging in risky behavior such as opening doors to strangers and being attacked.
- Urinating and/or defecating in home closets or in public.
- Engaging in out of character behavior, i.e., becoming violent, destroying property.
- Taking more Ambien and/or other drugs while asleep and overdosing, some fatally.
Is There An Alternative To Ambien?
When I tell my patients about the unusual side effects of Ambien, they invariably ask me if there is a safe alternative available. I offer a resounding YES! I am only too happy to tell them about Mother Nature’s alternatives to prescription sleep drugs.
Before prescribing any sleep aid it is important to talk to your doctor about your sleeping problem. The cause could be an underlying medical condition, such as an over-active thyroid, or an adrenal gland disorder, both of which can cause sleeplessness.
After determining that a medical condition is not the cause of your insomnia, there is an array of effective herbal sleep remedies available. The following is a list of several of the most popular, safe, herbal-based sleep aids that have been used for years all around the world to combat sleeplessness.
- Melatonin – a tiny dose, 0.3 mg, for a week can help restore healthy sleeping patterns. People report sleeping soundly through the night and waking up refreshed the next day. Helps shift workers and the jet-lagged re-train off-kilter sleep patterns.
- Valerian – similar to prescription Valium, a few drops in warm water 20 minutes before bedtime will make you drowsy and help you get to sleep. It is also available in capsules.
- Magnolia officinalis – used in Chinese medicine for centuries, promotes restful sleep and overall muscle relaxation.
- Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) – Studies have shown that passion flower reduces restlessness and can prolong sleep a beneficial 7-8 hours. It relieves anxiety and can also relieve the nausea that sometimes accompanies it.
- 5-HTP – boosts serotonin, a feel-good hormone, by increasing tryptophan, a protein present in fowl and dairy products. It relaxes you, makes you drowsy and helps you fall asleep naturally. Also boosts mood and assists in weight loss by decreasing appetite.
As I tell my patients, sleep deprivation takes its toll on your physical and mental well-being. It can make you cranky, unable to concentrate, gain weight, and contribute to poor health. Ambien and prescription sleep aids, however, are not your only recourse.
In fact, prescription sleep aids can cause more problems than they solve. Why put yourself at risk for all the erratic and dangerous behavior that Ambien users have reported? On a more humorous side who wants to get taken to jail for a traffic violation in their pajamas!
Mother Nature has some excellent alternatives to sleeplessness that won’t make you sleep-drive, sleep-eat, or sleep-walk. What they will do is give you a safe, good night’s sleep! Sweet dreams!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.