Psychiatry for Insomnia – Sleep Medications Risks and Benefits

Insomnia is a serious problem. Many of us have the occasional sleepless night. But frequently poor sleep causes health issues, reduces decision making quality, slows reaction times, and can lead to the development of mental health disorders and challenges. Patients that have recurring insomnia need treatment to keep themselves happier, healthier, and able to better care for themselves.

But how can insomnia be treated?

Some insomnia is treated through lifestyle changes, such as turning off your phone, reducing caffeine intake, developing a nighttime routine, and journaling. But some insomnia needs more than that. One request we receive often in our psychiatry practice is a request for sleep medications.

About Sleep Medications

There are different medications that can be used to enhance sleep. Medications specifically designed for sleep, such as “non-benzodiazepine receptor agonists” and “orexin receptor antagonists,” are prescribed to people that have insomnia by psychiatrists that believe that the benefits outweigh the risks. Examples of these medications include:

  • Zolpidem (Ambien)
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Suvorexant (Belsomra)

These medications are designed to give relief from insomnia by, quite literally, triggering the receptors that cause drowsiness and helping someone fall asleep.

Benefits of Medications for Sleep

Insomnia can be dangerous. Your body needs sleep to repair cells, regain energy, fight illness/disease, help with focus – and so much more. Even medicated sleep is better than no sleep, and when a person is unable to fall asleep on their own, these medications help. They can help people fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and sleep deeper. Gaining sleep is the primary benefit of these medications for insomnia.

Risks and Problems with Sleep Medication

When a person needs sleep, sleep medication can help. But it does come with risks that may vary depending on the medication. Some of the risks include:

  • Daytime Sleepiness/Drowsiness – Sometimes, these sleep medicines do not wear off right away. This can lead to drowsiness during the day which can be inconvenient and could also make it dangerous to drive or operate machinery.
  • Dependence – Sometimes, sleep medication can lead to dependency. This occurs when a person starts to *need* the medication to sleep, and cannot fall asleep without taking the medication. This can be especially problematic given that medication tolerance (the body adjusting to the medication so that it no longer works) is also an issue.
  • Adverse Side Effects – Sleep medications can have side effects, such as headaches and gastrointestinal issues. There are also many stories about “partial arousal,” like sleepwalking, which is rare but may occur in some situations.

All medication carries some risks. But in situations where these medications are advised, the benefits of sleep outweigh the risks of the medications. Most people tolerate these medications very well, but risks exist.

Alternatives to Sleep Medication

It is also important to note, however, that insomnia is often a symptom of a different condition and is not itself a condition. For example, people with anxiety and depression are more likely to struggle with insomnia.

Rather than treat insomnia with medication to induce sleep, we might find that it makes more sense to treat anxiety and depression through benzodiazepines, anxiolytics, and antidepressants. These are medications that treat other mental health issues, but by treating those issues, a person is more relaxed and able to sleep better.

Psychotherapy can also help, giving you ways to fight anxiety, depression, and stress so that it’s easier to relax at night and fall asleep better.

Always Talk to Your Psychiatrist

Medications that induce sleep can be useful. But every single person has a specific health and behavioral profile that needs to be identified in order to make sure that these sleep aids are the right choice for you. If you’re looking for a psychiatrist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to help with your insomnia, please contact Aware Behavioral Health, today.

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