The best sleeping pills are of course the ones you don’t need! Unfortunately, 8 hours of restful sleep is only, well… a dream to some of us.
Sleeping pills are part of the problem to an extent, as many of us choose to pop a quick pill instead of addressing the underlying reason for our insomnia. Here is a bit more info about the various sleeping pills available, as well as some natural ways to get more zzz’s.
Sleep deprivation and mental wellness
The symptoms of not getting enough sleep include
- Depressed mood
- Schizophrenic episodes in those predisposed to the condition.
Sounds scary doesn’t it?
Different kinds of sleeping pills
Benzo’s are the most well-known sleeping tablets, but certainly the most dangerous. Despite them being commonly prescribed, very few doctors explain how addictive they actually are. Benzodiazepines are so addictive, that if a person takes the same dosage for six months, they can start to experience withdrawal symptoms, while still taking them! because their bodies want more of the drug. They have many uses in modern medicine, and are wonderful drugs as long as they are treated with great caution.
If you have been taking these tablets for more than 6 months, please be aware:
To stop taking Benzodiazepines suddenly is a medical emergency which can cause seizures and death, and should be done with qualified assistance. The most effective method is to reduce one’s dosage by micro amounts over a long period. This process is called “tapering” and can take up to a year.
Withdrawal symptoms can take up to 2 weeks to develop, even with slow tapering. They include:
- Muscle pain and stiffness.
- Poor concentration.
Common benzos are: Valium, Xanax, Librium, Ativan and MANY more/. A full list is available below under resources.
Z-drugs are a newer form of sleeping tablet developed in the 1980’s and 1990’s. They are non-benzodiazepines, but have a similar effect. although originally promoted as “much safer” and ‘non-addictive” research is now coming to the fore that seriously brings these claims into question.
There are much higher incidence of fractures amongst older people. (presumably because of falls when awake but still under the influence, although this is not proven.)
Tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal are all reported with Z-drugs, though this appears to be less severe and with lower incidence than for traditional benzodiazepines in the treatment of insomnia. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to benzodiazepines, including
- palpitations, and rarely,
- seizures and psychosis
- Rebound insomnia, upon immediate cessation of the hypnotic drug, has been reported with higher doses of zolpidem This phenomenon has not been reported with therapeutic doses of zopiclone and zaleplon. (Reference at the bottom)
Over The Counter Sleeping Pills
Antihistamines: These can make you drowsy, and can also assist with severe anxiety, as they calm a person down. Examples are Benadryl or Unisom amongst others.
They are not meant for consistent use however, and can adverse reactions for other medical conditions. Medical supervision is advised.
Herbal sleeping aids
Valerian Root is a popular herbal sleeping aid, with very few side effects. Unfortunately the research that has been done had so many variables, that it is very difficult to compare.
Suggestions are that Valerian is most effective when taken daily for 2 weeks and continued at a dosage of 200 to 900mg daily.
How to improve sleep naturally
One of the courses I taught as a social worker was “sleep training for adults”.
The process starts with basic sleep hygiene:
- Get some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes during the day
- No coffee or smart drinks after 14h00
- your bedroom is for sleep only
- No screens in the bedroom
- no screens for an hour before you want to sleep
- If you wake up during the night, don’t have coffee and a cigarette (as one of my clients enjoyed doing!)
- Switch lights off as much as possible when going to bed (your brain needs to remember that nighttime is for sleeping)
It’s helpful to do the first few days when you don’t need to drive or make big decisions. it could take a while to work, during which you’re likely to feel like a zombie.
- Measure how much you actually sleep ( 1 hour, 2, 3?)
- Pick a bed time ( not too early – 11 seems the general choice)
- Set your alarm for as many hours as you usually get. (Eg if you usually only get two hours and you’re going to bed at 12, you have to set your alarm for 2am.)
- Open a window if you can. Cool air on your face helps you sleep, and fresh air is good for you.
- Make sure you are in bed with pajamas on, and your light off 15 minutes before your chosen bed time.
- Remember its normal to take 30 minutes to fall asleep.
- When your alarm goes off, get up, whether you got any sleep or not.
- Find a calm activity to do, whether study, reading, handcraft, anything. Keep busy enough that you can’t fall asleep again.
- Stay awake all day.
- Repeat step 1. To 8.
- On day 3, you may give yourself 30 minutes extra. Increase your sleep allowance time by 30 minutes every few days.
Natural sleep aids that work
Majid in Neuroscience (2018) shows that the use of vitamin D supplement improves sleep quality, reduces sleep latency, raises sleep duration and improves subjective sleep quality in people of 20-50 year-old with sleep disorder.
That’s good enough for me! The persons in this study received a weekly dose of 50000 units of vitamin D. A daily dose of around 5000 Units is in the safe range, and will positively influence your sleep. These seem to be some of the best sleeping pills around
Our skin makes vitamin D from being in the sun, so if you can, just 15 minutes in direct sunlight will also do you a world of good.
Here are some easily absorbed vitamin D supplements. Really affordable too. I do prefer the Superior Source product as it dissolves instantly under your tongue.
Good levels of vitamins B3, B5, B6, B9 and B12 may help achieve good sleep, as they help regulate the body’s level of the amino acid tryptophan, which helps the body produce sleep-inducing melatonin.
In my article on
Research has shown that Melatonin only makes people fall asleep slightly easier, but it significantly improves the quality of sleep. Although research is ongoing, it seems to have a relationship with our circadian rythms – how our body clock functions.
So what are the best sleeping pills?
First and best is to stay away from the Benzodiazepines and Z-drugs, because they aren’t a long term sollution. If I had to take them, it would have to be for a very short period of sivere need.
I would follow good sleep hygene, and make sure that I got enough exercies, sunlight and extra vitamins to help my body regulate itself.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal fatalities: https://journals.lww.com/em-news/fulltext/2001/12000/Benzodiazepine_Withdrawal__Potentially_Fatal,.13.aspx
List of Benzodiazepines: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_benzodiazepines
Z-drug withdrawals and addiction: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3657020/
Vitamin D improves sleep:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28475473/