Sleeping Pills: Should you use them or not?

Sometimes at night I see my mother drinking sleeping pills before she goes to her bed.  She complains that she is unable to sleep well these days because of stress.  Similarly, I have difficulty sleeping too, and it is irritating when you are really tired and your body wants to rest but you can’t just fall asleep.  So I once asked her if I could have a tiny piece of the tablet she usually takes, but just as I thought, she said no.  She told me that it will cause addiction and it is bad for our body health.  Indeed, people get dependent to sleeping pills just like drugs, and I knew that people sometimes give themselves fatal overdose to commit suicide.  However New York Times reported that although the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved any sleeping pills for use by children, an estimated 180,000 Americans under age 20 take prescription sleep aids anyway.  (Join Together, 2005)  Let’s take the teenagers who are physically close to adults aside, but wouldn’t that be harmful for the little kids?

Sleeping pills are one of the sedatives that depress the central nervous system of the human body.  Over the counter sleeping pills contain antihistamine, which is the same medication found in allergy medicine.  To produce sleepiness, antihistamine does the opposite of histamine, which releases a neurotransmitter to produce awakeness.   Antihistamine contains diphenhydramine hydrochloride or doxylamine succinate, and both ingredients send a signal to the brain to depress the central nervous system.  (Fryer, n.d.)  To be more specific, the neurotransmitter, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (commonly known as GABA for short) is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain that tends to cause the brain to “calm down”, and the active ingredients in the sleeping pill reduces the ability of nerves by altering a cell’s membrane potential causing less neuronal activity.  (Terix, n.d.)  Furthermore it also influences the levels of tryptophan, serotonin (a calming neurotransmitter), melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone).  This in turn leads to relaxation, relief from anxiety, induction of sleep, and suppression of seizure-activity.

However, there is a reason why sleeping pills are said to be bad for our health other than problems arising from addiction and withdrawal symptoms.  Many studies have found connection between regularly taking sleep aids and an increased risk of death and cancer.  One study discovered that “those who took 1 to 18 pills of any sleep aid or hypnotic medication per year had a greater than three-fold increased risk of early death.  Heavy hypnotic users were 35% more likely to develop a new cancer.” (Oz, 2013)  There are no clear explanations for this connection, however the connection between the use of sleeping pills and the risks of suicide and risky behavior, such as impaired driving, is quite obvious.

By looking at these facts it is natural that parents keep their children away from taking one.  However, it is not just adults who suffer from sleeping disorders such as insomnia.  Synthetic Melatonin supplements have been used as a solution for helping restless children sleep.  Melatonin is a hormone found naturally in human body that helps control the sleep-wake cycle, and its natural levels in the blood are highest at night. (Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2009)  Lights tend to decrease production of melatonin, causing the body to stay awake, which explains why people sleep well in dark rooms rather than in well-lit rooms.  The supplements appear to have a good safety records, and have successfully corrected the sleep-wake cycle of a blind child with multiple disabilities too.  Since melatonin comes from natural hormones, the side effects are milder compared to those sleeping pills that contains antihistamine.

Structure of Melatonin (Remedium, n.d)

However it doesn’t mean that melatonin has no bad side to it, and doctors believe those supplements should only be used for the most serious sleep and neurological disorders.  Still, some doctors say that parents are missing the point and give their children melatonin supplements when they don’t need to.  One mother has confessed that at night she “lines up her six healthy children nightly to give them their melatonin pill” because she is stressed out from taking care of her children after the hard work she had done that day.  Dr.Ditchek in New York University School of Medicine is concerned that the melatonin supplement may interact with other hormones in the body, potentially affecting fertility or sexual development, and further study is necessary for the serious problems that melatonin may have. (Wallace, 2013)

In this stressful world, sleeping pills have an undeniable appeal to people who suffer from sleepless nights.  However after this research I realized that we should try not to use nor rely on them because natural things are best for our body health and sleep isn’t an exception.  It is important to be aware of both beneficial and harmful side of what we use in our daily lives.  In conclusion, people should try to change their life habits (like stay away from coffee and PC before sleeping) before they reach for their sleeping pills.

References

Join Together. (Nov 16,2005). Many Kids Taking Sleeping Pills. In The Partnership at Drugfree.org. Retrieved from

http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/drugs/many-kids-taking-sleeping.

Fryer, L. (n.d.). How Does a Sleeping Pill Work?. In eHow. Retrieved from http://www.ehow.com/how-does_4610891_sleeping-pill-work.html.

Terix, F. (n.d.). Sleeping pills: How do they help you sleep?. In HubPages. Retrieved from http://terixf.hubpages.com/hub/Sleepingpills.

Rao, N. (Feb 28,2012). Sleeping pills: how tiny dose can kill. In Daily Express. Retrieved from http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/304910/Sleeping-pills-how-tiny-dose-can-kill.

Oz, M. (Feb 11, 2013). What You Don’t Know About Your Sleeping Pills. In The Dr. Oz Show. Retrieved from http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/what-you-dont-know-about-your-sleeping-pills.

Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2009). MELATONIN: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings. In WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-940-MELATONIN.aspx?activeIngredientId=940&activeIngredientName=MELATIN.

Wallace, J. (June 28, 2013). Melatonin: A ‘Magic’ Sleeping Pill for Children?. In WSJ.com. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324637504578567670426190246.

Images Cited

ALAMY. (n.d.). medicine. The telegraph. Retrieved from

http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01775/Medicine_1775116b.jpg.

Remedium. (n.d.). melatonin. A 2 Z Health and Beauty. Retrieved from

http://health.learninginfo.org/images/melatonin.png.

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