On nutrition: Can you take sleeping pills every night? | Health
Dear Dr. Blonz: I would like to hear your opinion on the use of over-the-counter sleeping pills, as I am concerned about long term use. My wife and I use doxylamine succinate every night. I’ve researched over-the-counter sleeping pills to some extent using Google Scholar, and can’t find any serious evidence against long-term use that outweighs the importance of getting a full night’s sleep. . There are enough, however, for me to worry.
We take 12.5 milligrams (half of a 25 mg tablet) and also take 5 mg of melatonin each. We are in our 70’s, not overweight and eating and exercising healthy. On the “bad” side, we drink a bottle of wine every night. I don’t consume caffeine; my wife has a cup of strong coffee in the morning. —JI, via email
Dear JI: Sleep is our primary restorative, but there can be complex issues at play when it’s not working. Considering that we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, it would best serve its purpose. I hope this answer, with many suggested readings, will provide guidance and help.
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Here are some resources that you may find helpful:
A primer on sleep: “How Sleep Works” from the Sleep Foundation (b.link/7nd2as).
Insomnia Information: “Why Can’t I Sleep?” from the University of California, San Francisco (b.link/p7ca8s).
An additional resource on insomnia: the section “What is insomnia?” National Institutes of Health page (b.link/qmmjr7), which includes a downloadable guide to healthy sleep.
Many sleep disorders exist and some experts estimate that around one third of adults suffer from some kind of sleep disorder. See the National Library of Medicine list for details (b.link/uu944y).
There are dozens of “sleep hacks” to try. See a long list from CNN Health (b.link/h26bmv).
A basic solution is to limit the time spent in front of a screen before bedtime, especially if it is a screen without a blue light filter. These filters reduce light frequencies that can interfere with the release of melatonin, a hormone normally released by the pineal gland to prepare the body for sleep. (Many, including you, I note, take melatonin as a dietary supplement.)
Then there is the role of alcohol in sleep disturbances. A bottle of wine shared daily pushes it for a couple in their 70s. While this may ease initial drowsiness, it is not “normal” sleep. Your body’s metabolic attention takes priority over breaking down alcohol, which is considered a toxin. Higher alcohol consumption disrupts sleep, especially during the second half of the night. Studies also show that alcohol can exacerbate sleep-disordered breathing, such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
Doxylamine is an antihistamine sold as an over-the-counter sleeping pill. It is approved for occasional insomnia, but not recommended for regular use. Alcohol is not advised when taking doxylamine, as it affects its breakdown.
I realize there is a lot to digest here. You have a lot to do when it comes to diet and lifestyle, but it’s wise to be concerned about the long-term use of any over-the-counter medication that isn’t taken under the direction of your doctor. . It is always best to consult your family doctor to rule out any health issues.
Finally, remember that changing routines can take time, so give your body a chance to adjust to new behaviors.
Ed Blonz, Ph.D., is a nutritional scientist and assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the author of “The Wellness Supermarket Buying Guide” e-book (2012), which is also available as a free digital resource at blonz.com/guide.