Sleeping Pills Not Funny?

Dear Reader,

Prescription sleeping pills don’t work. But that’s not the main reason I warn my patients away from them. They’re dangerous and you can do better. Nature has a cure for insomnia but medicine’s been all too eager to write it off.

Did you know that a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health found the popular prescription sleep aids will get you an average of only 11 minutes extra sleep.1

So Americans are shelling out $4.5 billion each year for little more than ten minutes of extra sleep.

It would be bad enough if this were just another case of big pharmaceutical companies taking your money and taking you for a ride. But it’s worse in view of the serious danger they pose to your health.

A lot of sleep aids impair motor skills and brain function the same way heavy drinking does, increasing your chances of falling or having an accident. They can even give you a “hangover” the next day with “brain fog” and grogginess. Many are addictive, creating a habit that’s hard to kick, and making it harder to fall asleep without them.

And some of the most popular sleep drugs, like Ambien, cause behaviors that are so strange they would be funny if they weren’t so dangerous, from “sleep-driving” to lighting the stove and cooking in the middle of the night while in a zombie-like state.2

I’ve seen lots of frustrated, frazzled, and addicted insomniacs who come to my clinic after learning these lessons the hard way. They still can’t sleep, and their doctors have told them they’ve exhausted their options.

Yet there’s a perfectly safe, natural, and highly effective treatment for sleep disorders. You may even have of your natural sleep regulator, melatonin. Melatonin controls sleep. As the day comes to an end, your body’s internal clock begins to wind down and starts releasing melatonin.

By slowing down your heart, quieting your mind, and dialing down your internal thermostat, melatonin gently puts you to sleep. You could call it Nature’s sleep aid.

There are two main reasons people run low on melatonin. The first is that as you age, your body makes less of it. Low melatonin levels are common among people over 50, who often sleep less.

The other has to do with the stress of modern living. Your body responds to pressure and anxiety by making cortisol, which gets your heart pumping and your mind racing. Too much cortisol for too long can suppress melatonin and its beneficial effects. That’s why when you “take your work home with you,” you toss and turn.

Many doctors dismiss melatonin. That’s a real shame, because there are scores of clinical studies that prove it works.

A recent Swiss study in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology confirmed that melatonin is a great treatment for insomnia.2 A team at MIT found that people taking melatonin before bed not only fell asleep faster: They didn’t get a “hangover” the next day.3

In Tel Aviv, scientists proved that if you’re over fifty, melatonin will help you sleep and wake you up faster. Plus it breaks the cycle of dependency on addictive sleep drugs.4

One thing to bear in mind: Melatonin’s a potent natural aid. You only need small doses to get the benefit – around 500 micrograms or one half of one milligram.

Another tricky thing about melatonin is the form it comes in. It’s not as effective as a pill because it’ll take longer to enter your blood stream. Look for melatonin liquids or sprays – they’re fast acting and just as affordable.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

1 Stephanie Saul, “Sleep Drugs Found Only Mildly Effective, but Wildly Popular,” New York Times, October 23, 2007.

2 Ambien may prompt sleep-eating. Mar 15, 2006.

3 Cajochen et al. “Role of melatonin in the regulation of circadian rhythms and sleep, Journal of Neuroendocrinolology, 2003, 15(4):432-7.

4 Zhdanova et al, “Effects of melatonin before habitual bedtime, Sleep, 1996, 19(5):423-31.

5 Zhdanova, et al, “Melatonin treatment for age-related insomnia,” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2001. Vol. 86, No. 104727-4730.