by Vladimire Herard

To combat insomnia, pharmacists advise patients not to go to bed on an empty stomach, engage in physical exercise or eat late, full meals before going to sleep but they can take sleep aids if illness is not a factor, federal research finds.

When asked by patients at the pharmacy about self-care for insomnia, pharmacists turn to a checklist, suggesting going to bed on a full stomach, especially with hot milk, chamomile tea and turkey meat, relaxing and not practicing physical fitness or eating large meals beforehand, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration reports.

Patients may take nonprescription drugs if insomnia has gone on for under two weeks. However, if sleeplessness continues for longer than two weeks, they may have to consult their physicians to ensure their condition is not the result of a long-term illness, NIH and the FDA state.

Sleep Facts and Figures

The National Institutes of Health has held conferences and released statements and research on insomnia as a condition and not just a symptom in adults since 1983. The federal medical research agency has expanded policy and regulations concerning the condition as it was identified as a public health problem since the start of the millennium.

In a 2005 conference, NIH defined insomnia as “complaints of disturbed sleep in the presence of adequate opportunity and circumstance for sleep.” The federal agency described insomnia as having four features: a) “difficulty in initiating sleep”; b) “difficulty in maintaining sleep”; c) “waking up too early,” and; d) “sleep that is perceived to be nonrestorative or of poor quality.”

Biologically, sleep occurs in three phases: light sleep, delta (deep) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The cycle involves the physiological sum of processes that restore the human body from the day’s mental and physical activity.

Nationally, at least 70 million adults nationally have sleep issues. On average, roughly 33 percent of individuals, if not between 20 percent and 50 percent, around the country cope with mild insomnia while 10 percent endure a more chronic version of the condition. About nine million have used sleep aids.

Half of all senior citizens not in short-term or long-term care reveal that they suffer from insomnia as risk for the condition increases with age. Though they spend 10 to 12 hours in bed, seniors may only sleep 50 to 70 percent of the time as opposed to 85 percent to 90 percent in younger adults.

Additionally, older persons take longer than younger adults to fall sleep, which translates into 15 minutes, and they are more likely to have more limited sleep, more wakings and less REM.

Women are also more prone to insomnia than men of the same age. Individuals stricken with mental illnesses, such as depression, are also more at risk for insomnia than their peers who are well.

Insomnia leads to more mental and physical exhaustion, impaired reasoning, memory loss and a reduced quality of life for the afflicted, especially for the elderly.

Among insomniacs, particularly for seniors, sleeplessness can increase the likelihood of work absenteeism, falls, accidents, co-occurring mental disorders, including anxiety, disorientation, delirium, retardation, being placed in a short-term or long-term facility and death.

Common OTC Sleep Aids

The most common over-the-counter medicines used to treat insomnia include Aleve, Alluna, Alteril, Avinol PM, Jamieson, Jatamansi, Lunesta, MidNite, Nytol Sleep Aid, Restorol, Simply Sleep, Sleep-eze, Sleepinal, Sleep Max, SleepMD, Sominex, Unisom and ZzzQuil Sleep Aid.

Additionally, other medications used to treat other conditions also induce sleep such as codeine as cough syrup and hydrocodone as an opioid, alcohol, marijuana, anti-anxiety drugs such as alprazolam, iorazepam and zolpidem, muscle relaxants or antihistamines.

Pharmacists ask patients not to use OTC sleep drugs if they are already on these other medicines to treat other conditions.

Because sleep aids use antihistamines, they ought not be mixed with drugs used by patients suffering from bronchitis, emphysema, glaucoma or incontinence due to an enlarged prostate, they say.

The sleep aids also must not be used by children under age 12. These medications also need not be taken by pregnant or nursing women but they should consult their doctors in advance if they should.

In addition, pharmacists asks patients to be mindful of the side effects of using sleep aids and to consult their physicians before starting on a regimen of taking them. The most common concern raised about usage of these medications is addiction or tolerance just as with other drugs.

If patients do not consult their doctors before taking sleep aids, they risk suffering from their effects such as allergies, bitter or metallic taste, cold symptoms such as runny nose or cough, damage to the brain, liver and kidneys, dry mouth, flushing, grogginess, nausea, sleepwalking, stomach cramps, and vomiting.

They may also confront mental health problems such as anxiety, dizziness, drowsiness, grogginess, insomnia, mental illness such as aggression, depression or hallucination, headache, memory loss and nervousness.

SOURCES: article online on Lunesta

  • Rehabspot on Lunesta and sleeping pills

  • Pray, Steven W. PhD, DPh, Bernhardt professor, nonprescription products and devices, college of pharmacy, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, “Insomnia and Its Treatment with Nonprescription Products,” U.S. Pharmacist journal, 2009, Vol. 34, Ed. 4, pages 8-11

  • Zzzquil