Can Sleep Aids Be Dangerous to Your Health?

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For those of us who have spent countless nights battling insomnia, the allure of sleeping aids can be particularly strong. They seems like the perfect solution to the problem, but this is the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry we're talking about. Some of these meds promise relief that is just too good to be true. Plus, nearly every miracle cure comes with a string of side effects ranging from headaches to life-threatening symptoms. So how do you determine what's safe and what's not? Educating yourself on the risks is a great place to start! Before you jump into a new sleep aid regiment, take a look at the possible complications below and consult with your physician to make sure your wellbeing is not at risk.

You can build up a tolerance. Especially if you're taking sleeping aids regularly, you run the risk of quickly developing a tolerance. As your body becomes adjusted to the drug, you will require more and more of the substance in order to experience the same effects. Eventually, if you take a high enough dose, your breathing may slow so much that you could go into respiratory arrest. Without immediate treatment, this could lead to death. If you find that you are taking your sleep aids for more than one to two weeks, you should consult your physician for further advice.

>> Read more: 5 Things You're Doing to Sabotage Your Sleeping Patterns

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You could experience next-day drowsiness. Studies have shown that if you take enough of certain forms of sleeping pills, like Ambien, the meds actually linger in your bloodstream even after you wake up. This can result in impaired driving or difficulty performing actions that require multitasking. Women in particular are more at risk for impairment the following day, especially if they are taking extended-release capsules. Try not to take these types of aids if you don't have at least 7 or 8 hours to dedicate to sleep, and even then don't engage in activities like driving unless you have your physician's approval.

You may suffer from erratic behavior. Talking in your sleep could be the least of your concerns if you are relying on sleep aids to knock you out at night. Some people experience radical side effects like sleepwalking, falling down and amnesia. Waking up on the floor of your living room with a bruised knee may be disconcerting, but imagine waking up outside, in a completely unfamiliar place, with no memory of how you got there. Downright terrifying, right? These occurrences should be immediately reported to your doctor, and you may want to consider lowering your dose or ditching the meds altogether.

>> Learn more about sleeping problems: Why Snoring Should Not Be Ignored

You might accidentally mix them with other drugs. Combining sleeping pills with other drugs, especially alcohol and stimulants, can create real trouble. Mixing drugs like these actually accentuate the effects of both, and that can result in extended effects. You will probably feel groggy, confused, and exhausted when you wake up the following morning. Also, the effects of high doses of the combined substances can result in suppressed breathing, which means you might wind up in the ER. Even if you just had a small glass of red wine in the evening, make sure you wait an hour or two before you pop that pill!

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You may have difficulty weaning off your meds: Like most powerful medications, sleep aids can be quite addictive. "Rebound insomnia," a condition where sleeping problems re-emerge, is a common occurrence among people who stop cold-turkey. When you are ready to ditch those drugs, make sure you and your doctor discuss a plan to wean you slowly off so that you experience little to no side effects.

According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of sleeping aid-related emergency room visits clocks in at about 42,500 a year. Abusing these substances, even if it is unintentional, can result in serious consequences. We highly recommend that you consult with your doctor before you commit to using a sleeping aid! For more information, check out our sources: Livestrong, Everyday Living, Women's Health Magazine.