An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Decades of research have led to the discovery of 90 sleep disorders, all of which come with daily symptoms and long-term challenges. Insomnia, however, is more common than most.
Sleep disorders can have serious health consequences, such as an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke. NIH researchers assert sleep disorders “have profound and widespread effects on human health.”
In Feb. 2017, the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine published recommendations for treating insomnia. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released comparative guidelines for 14 natural and prescription sleep medications used to treat chronic adult insomnia.
About Chronic Insomnia
Chronic insomnia is defined by difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep. People with the disorder may sleep for only a short time and suffer excessive tiredness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating and irritability during the day. Research illustrates the condition affects 10 percent of American adults.
“It is a highly prevalent disorder that often goes unrecognized and untreated despite its adverse impact on health and quality of life,” according to the NIH.
As the first line of treatment, researchers recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of talk therapy considered a successful option to cure insomnia, believed to have lasting effects after treatment is discontinued. If CBT is ineffective, researchers suggest turning to prescription options.
How To Use Sleep Aids
Each sleep disorder is different, and often the intended use of a medication may be confused. Sleep onset insomnia is defined as a difficulty falling asleep, whereas sleep maintenance insomnia is trouble staying asleep.
While some individuals may be under the impression that sleeping pills are all the same, one formulation may work better than another. The guidelines compare sleep medications that are FDA-approved, in addition to commonly used drugs prescribed off-label.
The recommendations focus on specific treatments based on the type of insomnia. When choosing a medication, prescribing physicians should factor in cost, side effects and patient medical history.
Prescription Sleep Aids
|Sleep onset insomnia
||Sleep maintenance insomnia
The recommendations also list certain medications to avoid. Diphenhydramine is found in over-the-counter products like Benadryl, Nytol, and Unisom. Though the medications are known to produce drowsiness, they are not recommended to treat chronic insomnia.
The antidepressant Trazodone and the anticonvulsant Tiagabine may be prescribed to treat insomnia off-label, but researchers advise against it. The prescriptions may come with side effects, like the development of a tolerance.
Researchers also do not recommend using natural sleep aids like melatonin, tryptophan and valerian. Because supplements aren’t regulated or supported by little data, the AASM can’t assure safe use.
However, if you do use natural supplements, the Pharmacopeial Convention “USP Verified” sticker works to signify the safety of the product’s active ingredients. Read the full recommendations here.
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