Sleeping Pills, Anxiety Meds, and the Impending Disaster

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.


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.


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.



  1. I have followed Dr. Amen on PBS for years, it is what educated me to see the signs of Dementia to get my Dad dx and confirmed with the APOE-3 gene. Now our 25 year old daughter, Hannah had a psychotic episode the last week of April resulting in Dx F22, with possible schizophrenia and resulted in an ITA stay for nearly 2 weeks. Looking back over the past few years we now see signs of the condition, but it peaked the last week of April. She is home with us, we are in weekly zoom meetings, learning how to talk with her, and to her. She is taking her nightly Risperidone. She paces, and is trying very hard to be the girl she was. She doesn’t seem to relate to having a psychotic condition, but blames her health issues on a kidney stone (she was confirmed with 8 about a year ago, and now has one left.) They have us reading “I am not sick, I do not need medicine.” We are in Lacey WA, I know you have a clinic in Bellevue. which I ran into the office to gather information when I was first attempting to get my dad a diagnosis. I should add Dad lives in rural Missouri. He is being treated by the KU Alzheimer’s clinic. His mother and her mother had dementia (they called it hardening of the arties with his grandmother) both her and my grandmother didn’t recognize us in the end of their life. Dad is 78, my mom is his caregiver and I see she is severly depressed but she will not admit it or seek help.
    This is all so new to us, especially trying to assist Hannah with finances, bills, no work etc while protecting her dignity and trying to support her in gaining back her life. She was always responsible with her finances and did very well in that area we never had to worry about her.
    Hannah is #5 of 6 siblings.

    The weekend of her episode, running on no sleep due to paranoia, she was having. I got up to sit with her in the middle of the night. we were watching TV, flipping channels and came across Dr. Amen on PBS, on a series I think we recorded,where he featured Gary Bussey on the episode, and others. Hannah sat there scribbling notes.
    Hannah was set to come off of my Uniform Medical RBS coverage the end of June, but I have applied for her to stay on as a “Disabled Child as of age 26” my HR department (Washington State Healthcare Authority) feels she meets the criteria. While in the ITA facility they applied for her to also have Washington Apple Health Molina coverage as secondary (Medicaid) since she is considered an adult and now with no employment. She has been a Nanny a few years for the same little girl since she was 1 month old and now is 3.5. It has been a hard separation for Hannah, but her “visions” and paranoia was scaring the mother. She finally had to block Hannah due to all the absurd and abusive messages Hannah was sending her. The mother is still in contact with my husband and myself. they love Hannah but was fearful of what her delusions could lead to. We did get a rescue 2 year old dog that has been a godsend to Hannah, as if she knows she has to protect and watch over her. Hannah sleeps all night now with the dog beside her.
    During the episode of Dr. Amen Hannah and I was watching he mentioned in a PP slide that genetics are tied in family members with Alzheimer’s, Schizophrenia, Depression and…Bipolar(?) The reason I bring this up is I have thought my 35 year old son is also Schizophrenic, or with extreme bi-polar. Andrew has a different father than Hannah, he was raised by Hannah’s father, has PTSD from working with the National guard in Katrina, then he lost his right eye in a fishing accident, he’s had a lot of trauma in his life. He was given oxycodone for the injury 3 years, then suddently cut off but he was hooked. He has had a drug addiction for 12 years and currently servicing in a 120 day treatment program where he is doing very well and has gained some awards. He’s been incarcerated since 03/10/20 due to parole violation but due to the pandemic just recently began the treatment program, so he has been clean since 03/10/20. Andrew is also in Missouri. Hannah unlike Andrew, was not on recreational drugs, the lab work confirmed only slight traces of CBD which she would take gummies for kidney pain. Over the years as she has watched her brother and never wanted to be on prescription medication. Something else about Andrew, he is being featured in a 6 part PBS documentary on Mental Health, and how he is an example rejected by the VA for care (they have always rejected to help our pleas for assistance.) Andrew has already been interviewed by the team, and the documentary will be released in 2021, the Director is Ken Burns, who has many award winning documentaries, such as the famous Civil War PBS documentary. I will fly out to be interviewed by the team as well, and I will mention my insight to Brain health I gained by Dr, Amen.

    I will be 58 in November, and often feel like I am having memory issues, but I am the advocate for all three of my loved ones, to try and get them the care and especially properly diagnosed. Hannah’s diagnosis of extreme bipolar is very hard to accept.
    I am currently applying for unemployment for her, and the extended pandemic unemployment, she can’t work as she once did. Prior to her episodes she was spending a lot of money impulsively and tries to get us to purchase unnecessary items. I am concerned about her financial state and if she could get into financial trouble with automatic withdraws.
    I believe in your program, and am open to have your team help her if we can financially afford it. We are limited financially as her dad is working part time right now. I was fortunate to be teleworking for Washington Apple Health, as her health declined. I work 4/10 hour days with each Friday off. I will continue to work at home after the pandemic restrictions are lifted.
    Throughout the month of May I tried to post daily help regarding brain health and the awareness focus for the month of May, and often I would post your website link.

    My oldest daughter had me watch the movie “Still Alice” and I cried at parts I recognized with my own dad, and wondered if she sees similarities with me as with “Alice.” I often Marco Polo with her (lives in Kansas) and will share my daily brain fog and call myself “Alice” and we laugh at it, knowing what serious signs we need to watch out for. I am in the Alzheimer’s Gene Registry as a potential candidate for future studies, and sent my DNA swab a few years ago to them.

    I know this is lengthy but right now I have the opportunity to share, and I want to thank you for all your knowledge and education.
    I hope I can get Hannah examined and treated by your team once I get her applications submitted, then I can focus on more extensive treatment, than what we are getting now though Outpatient Care.
    ~Stephanie Adams

    Comment by Stephanie Adams — June 12, 2020 @ 9:25 PM

  2. Pls send me info on hypnosis

    Comment by Nancois — June 15, 2020 @ 5:27 AM

  3. I have already written to you about my mental health and I believe what you say but my problem is I can’t afford to go to your clinic my insurance is Medicare I don’t have the money to pay. Your service is good but a little expensive and I really need help, the one I am receiving now it’s not working and I am getting sicker every day and the psychiatrist and therapist I don’t feel they care enough to help me

    Comment by Sirena Garrido — June 15, 2020 @ 4:13 PM

  4. There are some of us who are legitimately diagnosed with chronic insomnia and who need sleep meds or risk sleeping for 4 hours in a 3 day period like myself. I occasionally have side effects from the meds but nothing so serious that I would stop taking them. I’ve been taking sleep meds for 34 years now and I have never become addicted. I tried warm milk, melatonin and magnesium and none of them even touched my speeding brain. In short, if you have a real sleep problem, have a good doctor and take the meds as prescribed, you too can have better sleep. Besides, in 10 or so years when long term adequate testing and research can be performed on natural sleep aids, they too may be found to affect the brain

    Comment by Susan — June 15, 2020 @ 5:13 PM

  5. Dr. Amen’s recommendations based on Brain Type are right on target. Get the supplements he recommends, Try them for a month, at least.

    Comment by Debbie — June 15, 2020 @ 5:39 PM

  6. Do the Brain Type quiz. Follow the recommendations. That is free. After faithfully following his recommendations, if no improvment, consider genttic testing, Genomind has an assay that you can get without a prescription. The results are similar to Dr. Amen’s Brain Type.

    Comment by Debbie — June 15, 2020 @ 5:45 PM

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