Are You a Sleeping Pill Addict? Learn How To Quit (Detox) Yourself

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Struggling with insomnia can wreak havoc on your physical and mental well-being, pushing you to seek out ways to sleep better. In particularly bad cases, though, your physician may prescribe medication to help you fall asleep.

While these aids are designed to be a temporary solution, what happens, then, if you become addicted to them? Health experts warn that these pills could result in serious health complications.

We will cover how to get off sleeping pills, plus helpful insights on how you can improve your rest without the use of medication.

How Do Sleep Aids Work?

Medications for rest[1] don’t all work the same way. Some may cause you to feel drowsy, while others work to quiet the part of your mind that remains alert.

Over the Counter vs. Prescription

Sleeping aids can be purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy, or a doctor can prescribe them. However, prescribed medications are stronger.

Melatonin and Valerian are examples of supplements you can access over the counter. Antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and z-drugs such as Ambien® and Lunesta® are examples of prescription meds.

Side Effects of Sleeping Pills

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the following are potential symptoms of both over-the-counter and prescription pills for sleep. These include supplements as well.

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Muscle weakness
  • Digestive issues

Long Term Complications

Pill Dependence

As with many drugs, frequent use can cause your body to become dependent on them. The same goes for the ones to help you doze off.

Parasomnias

According to Cleveland Clinic healthcare experts, certain prescription drugs may cause you to have parasomnias, which are unusual or disturbing occurrences that happen while you’re sleeping. For example, z-drugs are known to possibly cause you to walk, talk, eat, or drive while asleep. However, most people do not remember these events after they wake up.

Substance Abuse

Experts warn that benzodiazepines may lead to substance abuse. This can be especially dangerous because mixing these drugs with additional sedatives or alcohol could cause you to overdose.

How Long Do Sleeping Pills Stay In Your System?

Ambien®[2] is a well-known brand of zolpidem, a type of z-drug to treat insomnia. This drug begins working after 30 minutes, reaching its full effect after 1-2.5 hours.

According to American Addiction Centers, pills for sleep can be detected in the urine 24-48 hours after use and 6-20 hours in the bloodstream. However, higher doses can be found in urine for up to 72 hours and 48 hours in the blood.

Illustration of a Woman in Bed Thinking about Pills

What is Sleeping Pill Withdrawal?

When you’re addicted to sleeping pills, your body has become accustomed to them. Therefore, when you quit using them, this detoxification period can lead to withdrawal symptoms that are both physically and psychologically difficult.

You may experience these symptoms[3] during a withdrawal period.

  • Body spasms
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • Delirium
  • Anxiety
  • Drug cravings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hand tremors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Tips for Sleeping Without a Pill

For those looking to get better rest without the help of medication, experts with Cleveland Clinic recommend the following natural sleep treatments and lifestyle changes.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT[4] is a form of psychological treatment that’s considered a popular alternative to medications and is designed to help you overcome the root cause of your insomnia.

Don’t Eat Too Much Before Bed

Having a large meal shortly before your bedtime may cause discomfort that keeps you up at night. However, if you are hungry, eat a light snack instead.

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

Reducing your caffeine intake, especially before bed, should help you get some shuteye.  Additionally, you should steer clear of alcohol. While it may initially make you drowsy, research[5] shows alcohol could lead to poor, disrupted rest.

Illustration of Drinks that Contain Caffeine

Stop Smoking

Smoking can be detrimental to your health in a variety of ways, including your slumber. According to Henry Ford Health System, the nicotine in cigarettes can disrupt your sleep because it is a stimulant that could make you feel less tired. Additionally, smoking[6] increases your risk of developing other disorders such as sleep apnea.

Find Ways to Relax at Night

To help calm your mind, establish a nightly routine that helps you wind down. This might include drinking some chamomile tea, meditating, reading a book, or stretching.

Need help? Check out 9 simple bedtime rituals to help you relax.

Create a Good Sleep Space

Your bedroom should also be a place that helps foster sleep. For optimal rest, try to keep it quiet, dark, and cool.

Additionally, make sure your mattress and bedding materials are benefiting you and your needs. For instance, not getting enough back support from your mattress could leave you tossing and turning.

Need help? Check out our guide on how to choose a mattress.

Ceiling Fan in the Bedroom IIlustration

Exercise

Research tells us that exercise is good for snoozing. First, it can improve your mood, which should help you feel more at ease when nighttime rolls around. Secondly, moderate aerobic exercise has been found to increase the amount of slow-wave (deep) sleep.

Stick To a Sleep Schedule

Keeping a consistent bedtime and wake-up time during the week and weekend should also help train your body to fall asleep more easily.

Cut Off Electronics Before Bed

Scrolling through social media on your phone or working on your laptop late in the evening can make it harder to doze off. This is because these tech devices emit a blue light[7] that reduces melatonin production.

Melatonin is a natural sleep-inducing hormone that’s part of your body’s 24-hour cycle. Production usually increases at night, but electronics can confuse the body, leaving you more alert instead.

A Woman Using Phone Laptop and Watching TV Before Bed

Frequently Asked Questions

What is rebound insomnia?

According to Addiction Center, rebound insomnia refers to when you discontinue the use of sleep medications, and your insomnia becomes worse than it initially was. They say rebound insomnia can last anywhere from several days to a few weeks.

Are sleeping pills addictive?

Yes, and many people may not be aware they’re addicted until they try to wean off their meds. In 2013, it was reported that 9 million Americans[8] regularly used sleeping medications for insomnia.

How long does it take to get off sleeping pills?

Addiction Center reports that it can take 18 days or longer to recover from most withdrawal symptoms. However, depression and drug cravings could last for several months.

Where should I get treatment for a sleeping pill addiction?

Experts with Addiction Center recommend seeking treatment with an inpatient or outpatient center, as these have the highest rate of success. Most importantly, though, do not be afraid to get help if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction.

Sources and References:

  • [1] “Sleeping Pills”, Cleveland Clinic, April 27, 2021
  • [2] “How Long Does Ambien Stay in Your System?“, American Addiction Centers, June 18, 2019
  • [3] “What Is Sleeping Pill Withdrawal?“, Addiction Center, June 15, 2021
  • [4] “Insomnia Treatment: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Instead of Sleeping Pills“, Mayo Clinic, September 28, 2016
  • [5] Michael D. Stein MD, Peter D. Friedmann MD MPH, “Disturbed Sleep and Its Relationship to Alcohol Use”, National Institutes of Health, 2005
  • [6] “The Link Between Sleep And Nicotine“, Henry Ford Health System, March 28, 2018
  • [7] “Blue Light Has a Dark Side“, Harvard Health Publishing, July 7, 2020
  • [8] “Sleeping Pill Addiction and Abuse“, Addiction Center, June 15, 2021
Content Writer | + posts

Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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