Sleeping Pills, Anxiety Meds, and the Impending Disaster
With the pandemic upon us and anxiety through the roof, who can sleep? An increasing number of people are having a tough time dealing with anxious, racing thoughts that keep us from getting the quality sleep we so desperately need. It’s causing hordes of people to turn to prescription pills for relief.
According to an April 2020 report, there has been a 34% increase in the number of prescriptions filled for antianxiety medications during the pandemic. New prescriptions filled for the most popular anti-anxiety drugs—Xanax, Valium, and Ativan—jumped 38% during stay-at-home orders. At the same time, the number of prescriptions filled for sleep disorders rose by 15%.
“This is a disaster waiting to happen,” says Dr. Shane Creado, a psychiatrist and sleep medicine physician at Amen Clinics in Chicago and the author of Peak Sleep Performance for Athletes. Here’s why.
THE TROUBLE WITH SLEEP AND ANXIETY MEDS
Anti-anxiety medications (such as Valium, Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin) are benzodiazepines that are quick-acting and can be beneficial on a very short-term basis for acute anxiety. However, they have several drawbacks. Brain SPECT imaging studies show that “benzos” reduce overall blood flow and activity in the brain and are harmful to brain function. “They can cause memory problems, daytime drowsiness, confusion, addiction, and severe withdrawal syndrome if they are abruptly discontinued,” says Dr. Creado, who does sleep consults and who is the creator and host of an online course called “Overcoming Insomnia.”
Trying to go off these drugs can increase anxiety to higher levels than before you started taking the medication. Benzos are also dangerous when combined with alcohol or other sedating drugs. From 1999 to 2013, overdose deaths quadrupled, according to research in the American Journal of Public Health.
Sleep drugs, such as Ambien and Lunesta, have similar risks. To understand how they work, it’s important to know that “insomnia is not the lack of sleep, but instead, excessive wakefulness of the brain,” according to Dr. Creado. These drugs are effective because they calm an overactive mind and causing you to become unconscious, but they also have many downsides.
“They may limit REM sleep and that can lead to morning grogginess, which is also known as the ‘hangover effect,’ as well as brain fog and memory problems,” says Dr. Creado. In addition, some people experience episodes of sleepwalking, sleep-driving, sleep-eating, and other behaviors while taking these drugs and have no memory of their actions the following day. Stopping the pills can cause rebound insomnia, making it even harder to get the rest you need.
In addition, benzodiazepines and these sleep drugs carry a black box warning, the FDA’s most stringent warning given to medications with the most serious side effects. This all adds up to a growing number of people who are going to need help to stop their prescription drug habit and to learn how to overcome insomnia and anxiety without these medications.
THE IMPENDING SLEEP DISRUPTION TSUNAMI
Although many experts have been pointing to a post-pandemic mental health crisis, “there hasn’t been enough focus on the sleep disruption epidemic that is headed our way,” says Dr. Creado. This will have dire consequences on mental health, physical health (such as inflammation, heart attacks, strokes, lowered immunity), work productivity, relationships, and more. To avoid becoming a sleep-deprived victim of the second wave of the pandemic, you need to take action now.
Here are some tips to improve sleep quality.
- Make sleep a priority.
- Address any biological issues that rob you of sleep (sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, hormonal imbalances, chronic pain, acid reflux, etc.).
- Treat mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
- Develop good sleep hygiene.
- Consider natural supplements, such as melatonin, magnesium, l-theanine, GABA, and 5-HTP—all found in Put Me To Sleep Naturally—to help to calm the brain and promote healthy sleep.
Sleep disorders, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting to get treatment until the pandemic is over is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.
At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples, as well as in-clinic brain scanning and functional medicine evaluations to help our patients. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.