Insomnia & Sleeping Pills
Complaints about delayed onset, duration and quality of sleep are common and
support a lucrative commerce in sleeping pills. Sleep is interrupted
by caffeine, body discomforts, illness, noise, threats, fear, anger, and
anticipation of unpleasant experiences to come. Itching, pain, asthma and
migraine headaches often begin or are worse at night. Heart attacks and strokes
can occur during sleep, often in early morning hours.
Sleep labs have revealed that reports of sleep disturbances and actual sleep
records are often different. The discrepancy is not surprising, since the
sleeper is moving in and out of consciousness and usually has a poor sense or no
realistic sense of the timing, quality and duration of sleep. A normative view
of sleep is that that you fall asleep when you are tired and wake up rested
after many hours with no recollection of what happened to you while you were
asleep. If you spend the night in a sleep lab, they will tell you that you were
busy doing different things. Despite the obvious limitations of sleeping pills,
in the US consumption increased 60% from 2000 to 2005 when 42 million
prescriptions were filled. Drug companies spent about $300 million on
advertising the promise that “sleep aids were safe and effective.”( Saul, S.
Sales of Sleeping Pills are Causing Worries. NYT. Feb 7 2006.)
Sleeping pills = dangerous drugs
Sleeping pills are among the most dangerous prescription drugs, often used
as suicide pills. Death by accidental overdose is common. The prescription drug
manipulation of the modern psyche began in earnest in the 1950's with the
growing use of "speed' for weight loss among housewives, barbiturate sleeping
pills, and the introduction of Librium, the first modern tranquilizer.
Housewives, actors and singers in the 50's and 60's were introduced to uppers
and downers as tools of coping with the demands and disappointments of modern
life. Most of the action centered around four drug classes: amphetamines,
barbiturates, librium and alcohol. Citizens and celebrities died with alarming
regularity from mixtures and overdoses of these drugs. even if you survived with
these pills, the long-term results were not good. Problems of addiction, brain
dysfunction (often called "nervous breakdowns" and "mental illness") and
accidents became increasingly prevalent. The combination of alcoholic beverages,
“uppers,” “downers” and sleeping pills produced chemical chaos in the brains of
users, often with tragic results.
Librium was replaced by a new class of drugs, the benzodiazepines. Valium was
the best selling member of this class for many years until problems associated
with its use became well known. Other Valium-like drugs were developed as
tranquilizers and sleeping pills, to large extent, replacing barbiturates that
were fatal in overdose. A common prescription for twenty capsules of
secobarbital could kill. Valium as a sedative-tranquilizer has been replaced by
related drugs with new names but the same set of problems for the brain: some
examples are Ativan, Xanax, Serax, Lorazepam and several sleeping pills such as
Dalmane and Halcion. A more recent class of sleeping pills has been promoted as
safer and more effective than old pills, but these claims are not supported by
Zolpidem (Ambien) is an intensely advertised and commonly prescribed
hypnotic. The drug company claimed that their drug had fewer side effects and
less dependency potential than pre-existing insomnia drugs. Studies, however,
have failed to demonstrate meaningful behavioral pharmacological differences
between zolpidem and classic benzodiazepine-receptor agonists such as triazolam.
Zolpidem is an agonist at the gamma-aminobutyric acid A type (GABAA) receptor.
Zolpidem can produce interesting but undesirable brain dysfunction such as
transient amnesia, sleep walking, and binge eating during the night, often not
recalled the next day. For example, a lawyer quit taking the drug after one
month, concerned that he awakened to find evidence that he raided the
refrigerator and one occasion, he tore a towel rack out of a wall. He had no
recollection of his nocturnal activities. He had started using Ambien because
his racing mind kept him awake at night.
Liappas et al reported cases of zolpidem abuse and dependence after taking
the drug for insomnia. The drug is taken in high doses by some drug addicts for
its hallucinogenic properties. Mahoney et al reported on experiences of
hospitalized patients: “There was a high frequency of adverse drug reactions,
particularly associated with zolpidem use. Zolpidem should be used cautiously in
the hospital setting.”
The US FDA finally required sleeping pill manufacturers to include warnings
on the packaging advising consumers of potential risks, to write letters to
doctors, advising them of harmful effects and to produce brochures that advise
patients of the potential risks. The required warnings apply to:
Ambien, Butisol, Carbrital, Dalmane, Halcion, Lunesta (in Canada -
Immovane), Placidyl, Prosom, Restoril, Rozerem, Seconal, Sonata (in Canada
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