Pharmaceutical sleep aids are a dangerous tool for those of us with sleep issues.
On the one hand, they do the job. You take the pill and it works. You could have a huge meeting the next morning, or family anxiety – doesn’t matter; the pills will put you to sleep.
But then there are the side effects. Most companies, for legal reasons, list at least a paragraph of potential side effects and warnings on every bottle. Some go as so far as to say you may not remember doing an activity, like cooking a meal. You could wakeup the next morning with no knowledge of anything that happened during the time you took the pill and your waking moments the next morning. You may have slept for ten hours or you may have slept for four been up for two and then slept for another four. During those two hours you could have cleaned your kitchen, read, updated your Facebook, or in an extreme case, driven to the store and back for snacks.
The last example is not a huge stretch of the imagination. In fact, a number of legal cases in the U.S. are centering on drivers who were arrested for dangerous driving, drivers who had no knowledge they were actually driving.
A number of these cases involve Ambien, the most prescribed sleeping aid in the United States. With a 1.6 billion dollar market, Ambien is used by countless Americans to secure an eight-hour sleep. Most use it successfully, with no problems. But the number of legal cases using what is now being called, “the Ambien defence,” is growing rapidly.
The most frequent cases involve users getting behind the wheel of their car, while under the influence. What’s difficult for the courts is deciding whether the sleep aid is an involuntary form of intoxication or an voluntary form. The users knowingly take the drug and are aware of the side effects, but are they legally responsible for their actions if they are unaware of their physical movements.
Hard questions to answer…
The manufacturers were forced to change their labeling in 2013, suggesting users of the controlled release version refrain from driving completely the following day.
But is this enough? Should we really be prescribing a drug this powerful?
Pop star Eminem has gone on record describing his own experiences with Ambien. “It’s kind of a memory-eraser,” says the rapper. “That s**t wiped out five years of my life.” It seems like quite the risk for a good-night’s-sleep.
Our suggestion for those with sleep issues: start with the basics before you jump to pharmaceutical options. Is your bedroom at the ideal temperature for sleep? Is there exterior light entering your bedroom? Does your mattress need to be upgraded? Adjust the basics and limit the need for a doctor’s prescription.