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Do sleep aids really work? Expert warns about side effects, discusses benefits | Health

Sleep plays an important role in recovery, recuperation, removing toxins and making one feel active throughout the day. Lack of sleep for days and months together can play havoc with our body processes and linked to many chronic health issues from heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, to depression. Not setting a healthy sleep routine is usually the cause behind sleep deficit, in many cases sleep disorders can play culprit. Sleep aids are thus widely used nowadays and many a time people go for over-the-counter medication which can have several side effects. A new survey by the American Academy of Sleep and Medicine suggests, nearly two-thirds of Americans are taking sleep aids. About 40% said the pandemic caused their use of sleep aids to increase. (Also read: Sleep deprivation: 5 ways lack of sleep can affect your heart health)

“There may be diverse range of factors leading to unhealthy patterns of one’s sleep, which seek medication to bring the balance back, as forcing ourselves to sleep is a challenging task when one doesn’t want to. Hence, additional technical help or medicines are surely required with proper consultation. The prime fact is ‘sleep aid’ brings benefits only if it comes as a medical advice from a clinical expert after necessary evaluation, and it is certainly going to result in adverse effects with any negligence, overdose or the absence of proper medical supervision. Every benefit or side effect majorly depends upon this basic understanding,” says Dr Bandana Mishra, HOD & Senior Consultant, Pulmonology, Sanar International Hospitals, Gurugram.

Dr Mishra further elaborates on the benefits and side-effects of different kinds of sleep aids that are available.

Wearable sleep-tracking technology: Does it really help people fall asleep?

Wearable sleep-tracking technology and smartphone apps are used to collect data points throughout the night, and to provide a better picture of what goes on during shut-eye. But they won’t actually improve your sleep. Reason? The data collected is based on movement. They can’t give you good data on whether you’re actually sleeping. So, a wearer who is wide awake but also lying still could get an imprecise sleep summary the next day. The same issue may affect individuals who toss and turn while snoozing.

Devices that include smartwatches, Bluetooth-enabled bracelets and bedside monitors continue to evolve. Some claim to be able to detect when users enter different stages of sleep. Movement isn’t a great reflection of sleep, hence it’s not the best parameter to use.

There’s a role for this technology in helping bring awareness about sleep. The tools might prompt users to be more mindful of making bedtime a priority or motivate them to see a doctor for sleep-related concerns, especially sleep hygiene and sleep habits.

Risks of sleep medication

The use of these sleep medications is especially concerning in older or elderly individuals as they may be at a higher risk for confusion, dizziness and falls.

“Medication can be useful as a last resort. Sleeping pills are typically only used for bad spells of insomnia. You can target your sleep problem. Individuals taking pills may develop a tolerance and there may be side effects. Sleeping pills may help with stress, travel or other disruptions that keep you awake. For long-term insomnia, behavioural changes learned in behavioural therapy/yoga/meditation are usually the best treatment,” says Dr Mishra.

Sleep aid may induce drowsiness to help you fall asleep or increase the likelihood of you staying asleep through the night. By improving sleep in the short-term, many sleep aids can help alleviate daytime drowsiness and impaired thinking from sleep deprivation.

“Draw your limits, work on the underlying causes which are leading to disturbed sleep. Sometimes disturbed sleep cycle is the symptom of some other issues like stress, unmanaged work-life balance, painful experiences due to some physical condition or recent accident. The resolution may not lie in sleeping only, rather the causes leading to disturbed sleep may need solution,” says the expert.

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