One sleeping pill won’t hurt anybody, right?
One sleeping pill won’t hurt anybody, right?
NiceDay blog: Een slaappil kan geen kwaad, toch?

Sleeping problems; they can have an enormous impact on your mental health. It is something that I have previously discussed in this blog. In the Netherlands, a lot of people use sleeping medication. It usually starts innocently, with taking a sleeping pill every now and then when you’re having trouble sleeping. However, there are many people that eventually start using it daily and have a lot of trouble stopping. One of the reasons is that thinking about why you’re having trouble sleeping is difficult, and often means that you’ll have to make big changes in your daily routine. This asks for courage and discipline and has its ups and downs. A sleeping pill might be a ‘quick’ solution for the problem, but is it also the best one?

Sleep medication can lead to more problems

We’ll start with the bad news: sleep medication doesn’t help you to sleep well. It helps you to fall asleep, but your quality of sleep isn’t very good. Because of this, your body won’t get enough rest and your creative and stress regulating brain will not function properly the following day. Besides that, there is a risk that you’ll increase your intake of the medicine, for example because of thinking “I’ll have to take it, otherwise I won’t sleep and can’t take my exam tomorrow!”. These kinds of negative and anxious thoughts can eventually lead to even more sleeping problems, and an independence of the medication. Once you’re no longer dependent on the medication, it is very hard to go on without it.

Breaking the vicious circle

Still, there are situations in which medication can be helpful. For example, when you want to break a vicious circle of bad sleeping and increasing psychological complaints as a result of it. But, do make sure you only use the medication temporarily and not every day. What would be a better and more sustainable solution, is to find out why you aren’t sleeping well and to do something about it. Anxious thoughts about sleep can worsen sleeping problems, and can sometimes lead to stress and psychological or physical problems. Try to take a look at your situation with someone close to you, and think about what could be causing the sleeping problems and what you can do about it. Or, ask your general practitioner if there could be a physical cause.

Alternative sleeping medication

The most common sleeping pills are called benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, there aren’t any good or healthy alternatives for this medication, even though people might tell you otherwise. Other types of medication, that have sleepiness as a side effect, also have other negative side effects such as weight gain or sexual problems. Natural alternatives such as cannabis, have an even bigger side effect on your quality of sleep, and can make you very dependent on it. Maybe you have heard of melatonin once? Melatonin especially helps with irregular shifts or jetlags for example. You can give it a try, but be careful with it! When you take it at the wrong time, it can mess up your biological clock.

So, can a sleeping pill hurt you?

Taking one pill every once in a while won’t hurt anybody. But, eventually it will be more effective to find the cause of  your sleeping problems. This will help you work on a better night’s rest and will prevent you from not being able to sleep without medication.

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Bram Bovée

Hi! I'm Bram Bovee, psychiatrist at PsyQ Utrecht. If you receive treatment at PsyQ online, I can help you with questions about diagnostics and medication. I have a special interest in depression, attention deficit disorder, biorhythm, addiction and adolescent psychiatry.

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