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Women Abusing Sleeping Pills

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ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Physically exhausted but mentally wide-awake.  It's what insomniacs experience nightly.  The problem hits 40 million Americans. Women are more likely to have it than men, and those sleepless nights can lead to a dangerous, potentially deadly problem.

"Initially they work extremely well and so you think you're safe," Alesandra Rain, a former sleeping pill addict told Ivanhoe. "Unfortunately they turn on you pretty rapidly. That little innocent sleeping pill became something that was quite dangerous and nearly took my life."

Alesandra rain started taking prescription sleeping pills after a bad car wreck and a wrecked marriage.

"I think between the pain and the stress of the divorce, I just wasn't able to sleep," Rain said.

Soon she was hooked, taking 60 Ambien and 240 other sleep meds every month - mixing them with hundreds more pills for pain and depression.

 "And by the end I was on 1,000 pills a month," Rain added.

She said her skin turned gray, and her health diminished.

"I'd be where Michael Jackson is, and Heath Ledger and Brittany Murphy and Anna Nicole, no question. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody," Rain confessed, saying if she hadn't quit the habit.

A study by the National Sleep Foundation found 30 percent of American women use some sort of sleep aid at least a few times a week. Other research shows 84 percent of new moms experience insomnia. Sleep psychologist, Dr. Kimberly Justice said just being a woman makes you more prone to sleep problems. From menstruation to pregnancy to menopause.

"All of those things can add to sleep disruption," Kimberly Kirkpatrick Justice, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist told Ivanhoe.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends using hypnotics like Ambien, Lunesta or Sonata only once or twice a week, for a few weeks.

"The reality is that many of these women are using those medications much more long term you know, months to years," Justice said.

Like cocaine and crystal meth, you can build up a tolerance to sleep meds.

"So, in order to get the same effect you actually have to increase the dosage," Justice said.

That can lead to an overdose, and mixing the drugs with alcohol is dangerous too.

 "It could be deadly, absolutely," Justice said.

You should also avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice while on sleep meds.  The fruit can make the drugs absorb into your bloodstream faster and cause over sedation.

"So the general rule is that we use our bed for sleep and sex only," Justice added.

Dr. Justice said problem sleepers should not read, watch TV or think about their troubles in bed.

"Our bed is supposed to be a cue for drowsiness and falling asleep. When we get into this anxious cycle what happens is bed becomes a place and a cue for staying awake and being anxious, and worrying," Justice explained.

Quit the caffeine at 4 pm. Stay off your computer, iPad, and smartphone around bedtime.  The light can mess with your melatonin and make it tough to get to sleep. And if you think a shower will help you relax, Dr. Justice said think again.

"Showering and bathing can actually be pretty alarming," Justice said.

Her best advice, remember the 20-20 rule. If you can't sleep, get out of bed for 20 minutes.

"Do a calming activity in a low light environment," Justice said.

Then, get back in bed for 20 minutes if you're still awake try it all again. For Alesandra, rehab was the answer to her sleeping pill problem.

"I wished I had been hooked on heroin.  I would have been through it a lot quicker. What started as my biggest mistake in life, heading down this path, has turned out to be this most enormous gift, that I wouldn't change for anything," Rain concluded.

She now runs her own non-profit helping others from around the world overcome their prescription addictions. Dr. Justice said after a person quits taking sleeping pills there is a period of withdrawal called insomnia rebound where the insomnia gets worse.  She said it's important women know that will pass.  After you beat a sleeping pill addiction you can get back to a normal, restful sleep cycle.

RESEARCH SUMMARY

BACKGROUND:  A third to half of Americans experience insomnia or complain about lack of sleep.  The National Sleep foundation found that 30% of all women in America use some sort of sleep aid. Sleeping pills are "sedative hypnotics," a class of drug used to initiate sleep, and include benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and various hypnotics.  Benzodiazepines are commonly anti-anxiety medications that can also make a person drowsy enough to sleep, such as, Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Librium.  Barbiturates cause sedation by depressing the central nervous system.  They can be prescribed as sedatives, but are more commonly used as anesthesia.  Newer medicines, such as, Lunesta, Sonata, and Ambien, help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and are "non-habit forming."  Sleeping pills may help treat the problem of insomnia short term, but can cause harm to people who have certain medical conditions, including liver or kidney disease (Source: webmd.com).

INSOMNIA:  Insomnia is a sleep disorder where an individual has trouble falling or staying asleep.  There are two types of insomnia; primary and secondary. Primary insomnia is when a person has sleep deprevation not associated with health problems or conditions.  Secondary insomnia means that a person is experiencing sleep problems because of a heath condition (Source: webmd.com)

CAUSES OF INSOMNIA:

  • Poor sleep or lifestyle habits:  Going to bed at different times, napping in the daytime, using phone or computer in bed, or poor sleeping environment.
  • The use of some medications and drugs:  Too much caffeine during the day, alcohol, heavy smoking, becoming immune to certain kinds of sleep medications, cold medications and diet pills, and other medicines, herbs, or supplements prescribed by a health care provider or bought on your own.
  • Social, physical, or mental issues:  Anxiety or bipolar disorder, medical conditions like thyroid disease, feeling sad or depressed, physical pain, or stress (Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth).

ALTERNATIVES TO SLEEPING PILLS:

  •  Herbal sleep aids: chamomile, passion flower, lavender, valerian root, kava, lemon balm, and St. John's Wart
  • Melatonin (a natural hormone that increases at night)
  • Tryptophan and L-tryptophan (Tryptophan is a basic amino acid; L-tryptophan is a common byproduct of tryptophan, which the body can change into serotonin
  • Relaxation techniques: such as, gentle yoga, breathing exercises, muscle relaxation (Source: helpguide.org)

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Kimberly Kirpatrick Justice, Ph,D & Akinyemi Ajayi, MD, D, ABSM
The Women's Sleep Center
(407) 898-2767

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