Sleeping Medication: What's Right for You?

By Jay Shelvin posted 05-06-2019 12:57 PM

Throughout the day, we often find ourselves busy with multiple tasks. Exhaustion can quickly set in after a long day of work, errands, and extracurricular activities. However, it isn't always easy to get to sleep. Aside from that, it can also be difficult to stay asleep at times. There are, however, sleep aids that may help you get a good night's rest. 

How Does Sleep Occur?

Through the hours of the day, the body's circadian rhythms and sleep-wake homeostasis work together to reduce wakefulness and cause you to become sleepy. These two processes cause sleep in multiple ways and are affected by multiple factors. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal biological clock that regulates processes like sleep and body temperature. It's controlled by an organ in the brain called the hypothalamus, and is affected by things like light and temperature. With low daylight conditions, circadian rhythms work to release melatonin, causing you to feel sleepy. 
Sleep-wake homeostasis works to increase sleep pressure gradually through the day. The longer you are awake, the greater the need for sleep. Three neurotransmitters in this process are noted for contributing to the onset of sleep.
  • Serotonin:

    Serotonin is responsible for inducing sleep and governs the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. 
  • Adenosine:

    Adenosine builds up throughout the day and reduces arousal, thereby promoting sleepiness.
  • GABA:

    Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that decreases wakefulness and increases slow-wave sleep.

What Affects Sleep?

Although sleep is a naturally occurring process, there are multiple factors that can affect the sleep/wake cycle. This includes the onset, duration, and quality of sleep. Sleep disorders, certain medications, stimulants, and artificial light all play a role in how well you rest each night.
  • Sleep Disorders:

    Sleep disorders like narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and shift work disorder can affect the onset of sleep and reduce the quality of sleep. 
  • Alcohol:

    While alcohol serves as a central nervous system depressant, it can interrupt certain stages of sleep, causing you to get less quality rest than normal.
  • Insomnia:

    Insomnia can be caused by anything from stress to jet lag. It dramatically affects the onset of sleep, causing you to sleep outside of your normal sleep hours. 
  • Stress:

    Stress can cause an imbalance in neurotransmitters, thereby interfering with both the onset and quality of sleep. 
  • Medications:

    Certain medications like anti-histamines can interfere with the brain's natural functioning, thereby affecting your sleep/wake cycle. 
  • Stimulants:

    Stimulants like caffeine can disturb multiple stages of sleep and interfere with the initial onset of sleep. 
  • Artificial Light:

    Artificial light interrupts circadian rhythms and affects melatonin production. This can interfere with the initial onset of sleep. 

How can Medications Help?

There are a myriad of medications available to help individuals with trouble falling and staying asleep. Some require a prescription, whereas others are available over-the-counter. There are slight risk factors involved with taking any Sleep Medicine, but they vary depending on the medication, the duration of use, and interacting medications/disorders. 

Prescription Sleep Medicine

Prescription based medications include the following:
  • Ambien®, Ambien® CR (zolpidem tartrate)
  • Lunesta® (eszopiclone)
  • Sonata® (zaleplon)
  • Belsomra® (suvorexant)
  • Rozerem® (ramelteon)
  • Restoril® (temazepam)

OTC Sleep Medicine

Over-the-counter (OTC) sleep medications include anything from antihistamines to herbal supplements. A majority of widely used OTC's are listed below:
  • Melatonin
  • GABA
  • Anti-histamines
  • 5-HTP (precursor for serotonin)
  • Valerian Root 
  • Lemon Balm

What Sleep Medicine is Right for Me?

There are multiple factors that determine what sleep medication may be right for you. Neurological disorders, interacting medications, and other health conditions all play a role in determining whether or not you can take any medication for sleep. Sleep medications can also cause drowsiness, dependency,and other health risks. It's best to speak with a physician in order to determine what medication you can or cannot take for sleep.