Most of us have normal sleep patterns, with no complaints; however, many people have a hard time getting to sleep (insomnia).  Others are able to get to sleep at first, but have a hard time sleeping through the night (sleep disruption).  In fact, many people have been diagnosed with actual sleep disorders, such as Sleep Apnea, where they stop breathing in their sleep.  Sleep disturbances cause major problems for many people.


The advent of the diagnoses of sleep disorders brought with it the development of medications to combat these sleep disorders.  Unfortunately, many of these medications are either habit-forming, or even addictive. 


If you choose to take a sleep aid (whether prescribed or over-the-counter), you must do three things:


1.  Check first with your doctor or psychiatrist and make sure it is ok with him/her for 

     you to take this medication.


2.  Check with your pharmacist to make sure there are no contraindications with this

medication and any medications you are currently taking for other medical conditions.


3.  Read the package insert that comes with the sleep aid – every single word.  You need the knowledge that this insert provides.  There may be information that tells you, for instance, that people who are pregnant, diabetic, or have had liver problems, etc., should not take this medication.  It may also warn you about possible side effects, and future damage to you that you may not be aware of.


Some medications for sleep disorders are only meant to be taken on a temporary basis; however, people quickly become addicted to them, and this is a big problem.  Although advertisements term it “not habit-forming” – implying that the medication is “non-addictive” – many people still stay on the medication far longer than was originally intended, and DO become addicted.


If you have a sleep disorder, you must be under a doctor’s care for positive resolution of your problem.  For example, someone with Sleep Apnea would be treated with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine; NOT medication.  If you DO need medication, however, your doctor is the one who should be in control of what medication, the dosages, and how long you need to be on the medication.


The most important thing is that you NOT treat yourself.  Taking over-the-counter medications that say that they will help you sleep might help for a time or two (on a very short basis), but if you continue to take them on a long-term basis, you could very likely end up dependent on the medication, or cause harm to yourself.  Do not let the fact that it is “just” an over-the-counter medication make you believe it is NOT a medication, because it is.


Many people choose not to go to a doctor for their sleep problems, and they will, instead, “self-medicate,” with drugs they already have on hand for other medical problems.  For example, a person may have an as-needed (PRN) medication for anxiety on hand, so they may choose to take an extra pill of that medication at night to help them sleep.  Whether it works for them or not is not the issue.  The point is, they should check with their doctor before taking ANY medication, especially when it is for something for which it is NOT prescribed (insomnia, and NOT anxiety, as in our example).


Another way people will “self-medicate” for their sleep problems is with illegal drugs and/or alcohol.   The point with illegal drugs is, of course, the facts that they are not only illegal, but that they are addictive, and very, very dangerous.


Using alcohol as a sleep agent is very harmful.  Alcohol, like illegal drugs, can be addicting, and lead to Alcoholism, in which case you are left with two problems.  It can also lead to alcohol poisoning.  In addition, if you use it with other medications you are already taking, it can, possibly, lead to a coma and possible death from the combination of your medications and the alcohol.


Some people will fight their inability to go to sleep and do things like stay up very late using their computer, which throws off their body clock – and for people who have a mental illness such as Bipolar Disorder, this can trigger an episode. 


For others, who do not have a mental illness, throwing off your body clock, going too  many hours – or even days – without sleep, can cause you to do many dangerous things – the least of which is driving.  Would you want to be in front of someone on the road who has not slept for days?  How stable is their driving going to be?


If you, or someone you know, have a problem with your sleep, you must see a doctor and get professional help.  The worst thing that can happen is if you do NOTHING about your problem.


If you do nothing about your problem, it will not go away by itself.  It will, in fact, escalate – just keep getting worse.  People who have gone without sleep (or have had disrupted sleep) for long periods of time:


  • Have more car accidents – either go off the road, or cause accidents involving other cars


  • Make poor decisions and bad choices


  • Do impulsive things


  • Have poor, unclear thought patterns


  • Have disruptive, even dangerous thoughts


  • Become short-tempered


  • Show possible violent behavior


  • Display reckless behavior – impulsive spending, gambling, sexual behavior



You must take responsibility for your sleep problem(s), and seek medical attention, so that you do not cause harm to yourself or someone else.  You need to have 8-9 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep per night as a good set of healthy sleep habits.