Trouble Sleeping? Think Twice Before Trying Sleeping Pills

By: Jenna Savage

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Sleep is important. As we have reported in the past, sleep deprivation can hurt academic achievement and increase pain sensitivity. In addition, a lack of sleep can exasperate feelings of anxiety and depression. But getting the recommended amount of sleep each night can be difficult, especially for people who struggle with insomnia. To try and combat sleeplessness, many people use sleep aids. In particular, Z-drugs, which are non-benzodiazepine medications classified as hypnotics, are often prescribed to help people fall and stay asleep. However, despite their widespread use, Z-drugs may not be the best option for combating sleep problems, PsychCentral reports.

Sleeping pills have been the center of controversy for a while now. Many studies regarding the effectiveness of Z-drugs have been sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies that produce the medication. As a result, many people – experts and patients alike – have wondered whether Z-drugs are truly effective. Motivated by such concerns, researchers from three schools – the University of Lincoln, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Connecticut – combined their efforts to study existing published research by using meta-analysis.

Meta-analysis – which consists of research methods that compare and contrast different studies – provided insight into existing publications. It allowed researchers to determine whether the effectiveness of Z-drugs was the result of the product itself, or whether participants in the trials were impacted by other factors, such as the placebo effect. In total, the researchers surveyed 13 clinical trials and accounted for over 4,300 participants.

In the end, researchers determined that the clinical effectiveness of Z-drugs is questionable. It turns out that while Z-drugs did shorten the time that it took participants to fall asleep, the effectiveness of the drug itself was impacted by placebo response. In fact, the researchers determined that the placebo response accounted for half of the effectiveness that participants derived from taking the sleeping medication. That’s a sizable influence – one that calls to question whether or not Z-drugs are worth the many side effects that they cause, such as impaired balance and memory loss.

However, there were certain factors that the study could not examine, such as daytime focus or the participants’ quality of sleep.

Researchers recommend psychological treatments, such as talk therapy or Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), as alternatives to sleeping pills. People who suffer from insomnia can also consider changes in lifestyle habits, like trying a different diet or incorporating exercise into their daily routines. If sleep aids are needed, they are recommended for use on a short-term basis.

Ultimately, however, more research is needed to determine other possible outcomes of using Z-drugs.