dangers of sleep aids

Sleep Tips and the Danger of OTC Sleep Aids

All of us want to be as healthy as possible. We want to feel clear-headed, move well, and make positive choices. Not all of us realize that it’s nearly impossible without good sleep. And many of us struggle with sleep issues.

Do you lay for hours trying to fall asleep? Or maybe you fall asleep easily, but wake up at 3 am and worry about the dumb thing you said ten years ago, or the bills you have to pay, or a million other things that can’t be solved in the middle of the night.

If any of that sounds familiar, you have probably tried some sleep aids.

What you may not know is that some of the most common are not good for you, and should not be taken long-term, or possibly at all.

Over-the-Counter Sleeping Aids and Their Risks

Let’s start with a group of over-the-counter drugs called anticholinergics. You probably know them better by the names Advil PM, Tylenol PM, Benadryl, Dimetapp, Motrin PM, and more. Popping a Tylenol PM before bed is a common practice; it helps you crash out. Sure, you are a little groggy in the morning, but you got your sleep, right?

Unfortunately, studies have shown an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s from taking these seemingly harmless drugs.

The higher the dose, and the longer the duration of taking these drugs, the more your risk increases of cognitive impairment.

According to the study: “Higher cumulative anticholinergic use is associated with an increased risk for dementia. Efforts to increase awareness among health care professionals and older adults about this potential medication-related risk are important to minimize anticholinergic use over time.”

Melatonin is a Short Term Solution

dangers of sleep aids
Next up is another favorite, melatonin. Many people think because melatonin is “natural” and over-the-counter, it is safe.

While that may be true for small doses and short term use, it is not intended to be used long term and in the high doses that it is traditionally sold in.

The proper dosage of melatonin is 0.3 milligrams, and most bottles you get at the store are somewhere between 3 and 5 milligrams. That is a HUGE difference!

Many people will take two of them, unintentionally taking 30 times more than they should.

Unfortunately, a side effect of melatonin is that it makes your brain’s natural melatonin receptors unresponsive, resulting in more insomnia.

Melatonin, in small amounts, is fine to use occasionally when changing time zones, or adjusting your sleep schedule due to shift work. But any longer than a few days is not healthy for your system, and should be avoided.

Natural Sleep Aids

dangers of sleep aids
So what do we recommend? There are many natural sleep aids out there that can be very effective. Magnesium, valerian root, chamomile, and L-tryptophan are all effective. Consult with your doctor to make sure that any natural supplement you take is safe for you.

If you are interested in our recommendation, our favorite supplement is called New Mood and is made by Onnit.

We have been taking it regularly for about six months and find that we get deep, restful sleep, with no sluggishness or mental fog. You can check it out here.

Overall, it’s important to have proper sleep habits, such as:

  • A totally dark room (black-out curtains, no electronics, no night lights). Even a little light can throw off your natural melatonin production
  • Television, computers, phones, and other screens off at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light messes with your circadian rhythms.
  • Get at least 10 minutes of unfiltered (meaning outside with no sunglasses) sunlight in the morning to set your circadian clock for the day.
  • Sleep in a cool room. Cozy feels good, but your body needs to be cool to sleep properly.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
  • Practice meditations like counting backwards from 100, writing down your thoughts before bed, and having a gratitude practice. It can be very helpful to clear your head so that when 3 am comes around, you don’t have a long list of troubles to go over.

We know it’s tough, but we can’t stress enough how important to your mental and physical health it is to get good rest. It will not only change your day, but your life.

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