M. Jackson Group Update – May 2015 –  Sleep and Sleeping Pills

This month’s article is from Ken Pope’s listserv and even includes a lovely story in his signature line at the bottom.

In terms of the list of sleep hygiene steps, I would add setting an alarm and then not having a visible clock as people tend to wake themselves up worrying about getting the “right” amount of sleep and/or waking up on time. Focusing on your breath works very well, and keeping the bedroom cool is recommended. Our local sleep expert is also quite adament that the human bladder has an amazing capacity and can easily last the night. However, if you do get up, try to think about as little as possible. This reminds me of an episode when our youngest was small and got up, peed in the kitty litter, and then flushed the toilet. I’m pretty sure this minimally interfered with his sleep.

Pleasant dreams. The article follows:

*Consumer Reports* includes an article: “The truth about sleeping pills:What’s safe, what isn’t, and how to get a good night’s sleep.”

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Published: March 2015

Newer sleep drugs aren’t very effective

Recent analysis by Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs found that people who take newer prescription sleeping pills fall asleep only 8 to 20 minutes faster than with a placebo. That category of sedatives includes eszopiclone (Lunesta and generic); ramelteon (Rozerem and generic); zaleplon (Sonata and generic); and zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar, Zolpimist, and generic).

Ambien and Lunesta, for example, help people fall asleep only about 20 minutes and 19 minutes faster, respectively, than a placebo, on average. In addition, Best Buy Drugs found that the drugs add just 3 to 34 minutes to total sleep time. Their effectiveness is so limited that as of late 2014 they were no longer considered a first-choice treatment for chronic insomnia by the American Aca-demy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).

Safer strategy: Try sleep therapy (see below). Our analysis found that it might be as effective, if not more so, as drugs.


Older drugs are risky


Several [benzodiazepines] are FDA-approved for insomnia: estazolam (generic), flurazepam (Dalmane and generic), quazepam (Doral), and temazepam (Restoril and generic).

Our analysis found them to be generally no more effective than the newer sleeping pills.

Studies suggest that they have a higher risk of day-after sleepiness and grogginess, dependency, and rebound insomnia.

Despite years of concern, those drugs are prescribed to older adults at a disproportionate rate.


Safer strategy: Consider a benzo-diazepine only if you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder that disrupts sleep, and use it only intermittently.

Newer sleep drugs can have side effects, too

Although they seem to cause fewer side effects than benzodiazepines, drugs such as Ambien and Lunesta can cause dependency, daytime drowsiness, and dizziness, and may worsen sleep problems if you stop taking them after regular use.

And in rare cases, people have reported sleep driving, sleep eating, amnesia, and hallucinations. In addition, the older you are, the more intense the sleep-inducing effects and side -effects may be.

Taking any of those drugs (or a benzodiazepine) can impair your driving ability and increase your risk of falls and hip fractures.

And a 2013 government report noted a 220 percent jump in emergency room vis-its for adverse reactions to zolpidem between 2005 and 2010. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2014 found that about 21 percent of psychiatric drug-related ER visits were by people 65 and older taking zolpidem.

Safer strategy: It’s best to take the lowest dose possible for no longer than a few days.

OTCs can pose problems

Older over-the-counter antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and generic versions), and doxylamine (Unisom and generic) may be useful for very short-term insomnia. But rebound insomnia is a concern, as is daytime drowsiness, confusion, constipation, dry mouth, and problems urinating.

And a 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported a higher risk of dementia in people who regularly used those type of drugs, which are known as anticholinergics.

Safer strategy: Use OTCs for no more than one or two nights at a time. If your insomnia lasts longer than a few days, check in with your doctor.

Trazodone: Not for sleep

Trazodone, an older antidepressant, is commonly prescribed off-label for insomnia. But in the one study that tested it against a placebo and Ambien, it was only slightly more effective than the placebo and less effective than Ambien. The drug can cause next-day drowsiness and very low blood pressure, which can lead to fainting.

Safer strategy: Unless your doctor has diagnosed depression, or until other studies show it effective for use in those without depression, skip trazo-done for sleeplessness.

How to stay safe

What’s the bottom line? Hypnotics, or sleep-inducing medication, “can be helpful under certain circumstances,” says Timothy Morgenthaler, M.D., president of the AASM. Brief use may help if you develop short-term insomnia caused by jet lag or a major life change. They may also let you get some rest as you learn lifestyle strategies. But:

Take them only if you have time for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep, so the effect has time to wear off.
Never mix a sleep drug with alcohol or sedatives.
Don’t rely on them every night (or almost nightly) for months or more. That boosts the likelihood of adverse effects.
Take the lowest effective dose.
If you’re offered a sleep drug in the hospital, think twice. A 2014 study found that 26 percent of subjects received sleep drugs while hospitalized. And 34 per–cent of those who hadn’t used a sleep aid before admission left with a prescription for one.

Better sleep tips

Try one or more of the following approaches before you take a sleep aid….

1) Stay on schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Can’t sleep? Leave the bedroom and do something restful, such as reading, until you feel sleepy. If you nap, do so before 3 p.m. for no more than 30 minutes.

2) Make changes in your bedroom. Block out noise and outside light. Make sure that your mattress and room temperature are comfortable. Remove the TV.

3) Eat and drink wisely. Avoid or minimize alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine; they can affect sleep. Don’t eat heavily within several hours of bedtime.

4) Exercise regularly. It promotes healthy sleep (but not shortly before bedtime).

5) Get natural light. A study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that people exposed to natural light at work slept better and longer.

6) Turn off e-readers and other devices 2 hours before bed. They can emit blue light, which suppresses levels of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. If you can’t unplug, dim the device and hold it at least 14 inches from your eyes.

7) Reduce stress. Meditation, yoga, and tai chi can help. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that six months of tai chi three times per week helped older adults fall asleep faster and sleep longer.

8) Get a checkup. Some medications and health problems can disrupt sleep, so see your doctor if lifestyle strategies haven’t helped after a month.

9) Try sleep therapy. Research has found that cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is quite effective at helping people with sleep problems fall asleep and stay asleep. “CBT-I rebuilds people’s confidence in their ability to sleep,” says Ryan G. Wetzler, Psy.D., director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Sleep Medicine Specialists in Louisville, Ky. CBT-I is often covered by insurance and doesn’t require a significant time commitment. Wetzler says that his patients usually see improvements after only six visits.

[end excerpts]

The article is online at:

Ken Pope


“Cherry [one of Michael Vick’s abused fighting dogs] arrived very fearful and shut down to the point that he refused to walk on a leash at first, but he adapted very quickly.  Within weeks he figured out that no one at Best Friends was out to hurt him….   He’d gone from a dog that was so visibly fearful to one that was so obviously happy.  He was always excited to see people and if anyone sat on the ground, he absolutely had to sit in their lap.  In the summer of 2008 he was adopted by a family with another dog and a cat.  He’s adjusted well to his new life, but he does have a few quirks that make his adoptive family a little crazy. He refuses to go to bed at night until everyone is home, and sometimes he wakes everyone up in the middle of the night because he’s up playing with the cat.”
–Jim Gorant, *The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption*

Take care,




John Pullyblank, Ph.D., R.Psych.


Managing Partner