Sleep Better Without Harming Your Brain: The Hidden Risks of Common Sleeping Pills

If you’re struggling to sleep at night, it’s important to be cautious of relying on medication that may cause serious long-term damage to your brain and body. A class of drugs called anticholinergic medications may be causing damage to your brain function without you even realizing it. These drugs influence brain function by interfering with acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, which can lead to significant problems in performing day-to-day tasks for some people.

What are Anticholinergic Medications?

Anticholinergic medications are commonly used for various reasons, such as helping with sleep issues, preventing bladder leakage, and treating high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. You can typically find them over the counter and under different brand names. Some of these pharmaceuticals include Benadryl, Nytol, Dramamine, Tylenol PM, Unisom, Excedrin PM, and Sominex. Prescription medications in this class include Detrol, Elavil, Paxil, and Demerol.

The Hidden Dangers

Researchers at Indiana University and in the United Kingdom found that anticholinergic drugs could cause harm to brain function and lead to significant disability in some individuals. The study analyzed the results of 46 studies involving more than 60,000 people. While it did not find a strong link between anticholinergics and delirium (an extreme but short-term brain problem), it did show that the drugs could lead to memory difficulties and physical impairment.

According to researcher Noll Campbell, “Anticholinergics, both over-the-counter and prescription medications, impact the lives of older adults in ways doctors, patients, and their families may not realize.” He also adds that, “I don’t see the use of these medications declining. Doctors and patients are familiar with these drugs and, unfortunately, are far less familiar with equally effective alternatives.”

Alternative Ways to Improve Sleep

Instead of resorting to potentially harmful sleeping pills, you can try several alternative methods to improve your nighttime sleep. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Avoid napping during the day: Napping can throw off your sleep schedule and make it more difficult to fall asleep at night.

  • Don’t exercise late at night: Exercise raises your body temperature and stimulates your body, which can make it harder to fall asleep. Aim to finish exercising at least a few hours before bedtime.

  • Keep light out of your bedroom: Exposure to light can disrupt your sleep cycle. Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible by using blackout curtains or an eye mask.

  • Establish a bedtime routine: Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day helps to regulate your body’s internal clock and can improve the quality of your sleep.

  • Create a comfortable sleep environment: Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive, and maintain a cool room temperature.

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake: Caffeine and alcohol can interfere with your sleep. Try to avoid consuming these substances too close to bedtime.

  • Practice relaxation techniques: Activities such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation can help calm the mind and prepare the body for sleep.

  • Turn off electronic devices: The blue light emitted from screens can interfere with your sleep patterns. Put away your smartphone, tablet, or laptop at least an hour before bedtime.

Remember, your sleep is crucial for your overall health and well-being. Instead of resorting to medication that may cause long-term damage to your brain and body, consider trying these alternative methods first for a safer and more natural approach to better sleep. If you continue to experience disruptive sleep, it would be wise to consult with a healthcare professional for further guidance and advice.