How To Avoid Becoming Dependent On Sleep Medications, According To A Doctor

While healthy adults between 18 and 64 years of age require at least seven hours of sleep nightly, the Sleep Foundation reports that over one-third of adults are falling short of this recommendation. For some people, the use of sleep medications may be a practical solution to this problem, particularly if a person struggles with a sleep disorder. "Medication should be considered when sleep disturbance is causing compromised daytime function and significant disruption of daily life," says Bianca Stewart, MD, a specialist in sleep medicine at Novant Health Sleep Medicine, in an exclusive interview with Health Digest. "Signs and symptoms include fatigue, decreased concentration/attention, mood instability, and anxiety associated with sleep," she explains. "Disruption of daily life can include [a] declining performance at work or school, excessive tardiness, and relationship interference."

As can be the case with many other medications, however, it is possible to develop a dependence on sleep medications. "Individuals who use sleep medication alone to treat secondary insomnia are more prone to developing dependence," says Dr. Stewart. "Secondary insomnia is defined as insomnia caused by another medical condition, mental disorder, alternative sleep disorder, use/abuse/exposure to particular substances, etc.," she further explains. "Examples of conditions and substances that cause secondary insomnia include anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, chronic pain, heart failure, menopause, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson's Disease, periodic limb movement disorder, circadian rhythm disorders, diuretics, stimulant medications (amphetamine), alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, etc."

Signs of dependence and sleep disorder treatment approaches

Dr. Stewart goes on to outline what signs to look for that may indicate a person is becoming dependent on sleep medications. "Potential signs of dependence include tolerance and compulsive use despite incomplete improvement or negative side effects," she tells us exclusively. "Medication tolerance can manifest as requiring higher doses of a medication for the same effect." She explains how this can ultimately impact one's health. "Compulsive use can manifest as taking higher doses than prescribed with frequent refills, memory impairment, and withdrawal symptoms (i.e. rebound insomnia and anxiety)."

To avoid becoming dependent on these drugs, Dr. Stewart advises against relying solely on sleep medications to address the condition. Instead, she suggests focusing on the underlying causes of one's sleep difficulties. "Using a holistic approach when addressing insomnia will aid in avoiding dependence," she says. "A holistic approach to insomnia treatment [includes] identifying and optimizing treatment of all conditions that impact sleep including medical, mental, behavioral, and substance use disorders."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).