Tossing. Turning. Flailing about. It’s 2 a.m. and your mind races as you stare endlessly into the darkness of your bedroom, hoping that the staring game with your ceiling will eventually drain your brain’s battery levels, causing your body to finally drift peacefully into a deep night’s sleep. But it doesn’t. And once again you’re left feeling exhausted and irritable as a new day begins.
If you’re a person who spends most of their nights like the one described above, then you may be one of the many Americans who suffer from some sort of sleeping disorder. It’s estimated that between a third and a half of Americans suffer from insomnia, according to an article on WebMD. And if you fall into that category, then you may be searching for that special sleep aid to help you through the night.
Most sleeping pills are ‘sedative hypnotics,’ a specific class of drugs used to coax the brain into ‘shutting down’ so a person can fall ⎯ and maintain ⎯ a restful night’s sleep. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified sedative hypnotics as benzodiazepines and barbiturates, along with various other hypnotics.
Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium and Librium are anti-anxiety medications. They also increase drowsiness and help people sleep. Barbiturates depress the central nervous system and can cause sedation.
Newer medications, like Lunesta and Ambien, help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, and are said to be non-habit forming, according to the FDA.
Many people fear that by taking sleeping pills, they’ll feel tired, experience headaches or nausea, or have trouble waking up the morning after.
“These side effects are possible, but avoidable,” said Dr. Ralph Downey III, director of the Loma Linda University Sleep Disorders Center in Loma Linda, Calif. “If your doctor has prescribed the correct dosage, and you take the pill according to your doctor’s instructions, the medication should work effectively without any morning hangover.”
If taking prescription drugs isn’t a risk you’re willing to gamble with, then you might consider taking natural ⎯ over-the-counter ⎯ remedies like melatonin, valerian and chamomile.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain, according to Jawad Miran, a doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at Somerset Medical Center in Hillsborough, N.J. Melatonin is believed to play a key role in regulating sleep and circadian rhythms.
Valerian is a dietary supplement used to combat insomnia and nervousness. However, even though many people use Valerian as a sleep aid, its effectiveness has not been proven in well-designed scientific research, according to Miran.
Chamomile, like valerian, is a traditional herbal remedy that is used to fight insomnia. Chamomile is sold in the form of tea, extract and topical ointment. Its effectiveness has not been widely researched in humans, but animal studies show it to be a mild sleep aid.
Regardless of what route you take to achieve the proper rest you deserve, just remember that a good night’s sleep is one of the key factors to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.