Cutout of various medicines and pills

Sleeping pills: Healthy?

Sleeping pills: healthy, dangerous or outdated?

Like all drugs, sleeping pills are first seductive and then become dangerous - no matter which sleeping pills you are considering: just a moment ago you were tossing and turning restlessly in bed, you quickly pop a small tablet of Stilnix, Valium or Adumbran and a pleasant tiredness sets in. The sleep disturbances are forgotten.

More than 1.2 million people in Germany take sleeping pills or tranquillisers every day or at least once a week, according to the results of a study by Statista. And as the drug researcher Gerd Glaeske found in a 2014 study, just as many people in this country have a sleeping pill addiction. After only four to eight weeks of regular use, most people become dependent on the sleeping pill and can no longer fall asleep without it. So instead of looking at what habits will make you sleep better, pills are now the quick fix. It's a fair question to ask: Are sleeping pills dangerous?

Billion-dollar business in sleeping pills: healthy sleep versus turnover-driven addiction?

For the pharmaceutical industry, this means business worth billions: according to calculations by the American market research company BCC Research, it sold sleeping pills and sleep-inducing drugs worth 58 billion US dollars worldwide in 2014 alone. Sales are expected to grow to as much as $76.7 billion by 2019.

However, the big business with sleeping pills has a dangerous downside. The side effects are serious. After only four to eight weeks of regular use, most people become addicted to sleeping pills and can no longer fall asleep without them. In addition, there are side effects that older people in particular often do not recognise because they seem like old-age ailments: they fall more easily because the sleeping pills have a strong muscle-relaxing effect. In addition, long-term use of sleeping pills can reduce brain performance, so that the people affected also increasingly lose interest in their surroundings.

And there is something else that speaks against swallowing sleeping pills: The sleep they artificially produce is not nearly as restful as natural sleep. This is due to the way hypnotics work. They change the architecture of sleep: the particularly restful deep sleep is suppressed by the so-called benzopiazepines and the REM phases, the time when we dream intensively, also become shorter. This is also noticeable the next morning: you often feel completely sleepy and dizzy until midday. Reactivity is limited, so you should never drive a car.

"Healthy" sleeping pills? Or rather healthy alternatives?

Pharmacists have now also recognised these problems: Modern hypnotics, the so-called non-benzodiazepines, which many doctors now often prescribe, are therefore only supposed to ensure that our brain shuts down without forcing sleep. At first, they were also said to be less quickly addictive. But according to recent studies, they also differ from benzodiazepines - neither in their side effects nor in their addictive potential. The basic rule is therefore: sleeping pills should only be taken in truly exceptional cases.

Often, sleeping pills are not even necessary: Before you go to the doctor and have the tablets prescribed, there are many other measures that can help you improve your sleep: Relaxation exercises or a short meditation, a tea to fall asleep to, quiet music, a hot bath before going to bed, a good mattress and a few drops of lavender oil on the pillow often work much better than any tablet. A good sleep consultation can help.