This Is Why Sleeping Pills Don’t Help You Log Better Z’s

Unsplash/Stacey Rozells

We all have trouble sleeping from time to time (if not all the time) thanks to constant stresses and anxieties of daily life. But turning to medication for help when aromatherapy, new bedding and meditation exercises fail isn’t necessarily doing the quality of our sleep any favors.

According to Matt Walker, PhD, the author of Why We Sleep, rest induced by drugs doesn’t have the same restorative properties that natural sleep offers. Many of the prescription drugs on the market aimed at treating insomnia are sedatives, but sedation is not the same process as sleep. Those medications literally turn parts of the brain off, leaving you in a state of unconsciousness. And we currently don’t have access to pharmacological technology that is capable of imitating the complex network changes that occur in the brain when we sleep naturally.

Unsplash/Vladislav Muslakov

Because the sleep you accrue while under the influence of sleeping pills isn’t as restorative as your body needs it to be, you can actually lose consistent access to the memory-enhancing benefits of deep sleep. Researchers at St. Luke’s Hospital Sleep Medicine and Research Center in Missouri observed that both declarative memory (the storage of facts, events, thoughts and ideas) and procedural memory (skill recall for task completion) suffered when their study participants took a zolpidem-based sleeping pill (like Ambien) close to bedtime.

To make matters worse, Harvard Medical School sleep scientist Patrick Fuller told Business Insider last year, “I think most people that are taking hypnotic medications actually don’t need them and should work to get off of them.”

The number of people who think they suffer from true insomnia is much higher than the number of people who have been formally diagnosed with the sleep disorder. So, they end up improperly medicating themselves with drugs that also happen to be highly habit-forming, which means most people end up using them for much longer periods of time or more frequently than they should.

If you’re struggling to log proper Z’s for an extended period of time, don’t assume that medication is the answer. See a sleep specialist to properly diagnose your issue, and consider things like cognitive behavioral therapy or an evening restorative yoga practice to help your mind and body meet in that coveted space of quality rest.