Pros and cons of sleep medication to support physical and mental health

Posted on 06/24/22 11:27:am


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Adults need seven or more hours of sleep each night, yet statistics show 50 to 70 million people in the US have insomnia or other sleep disorder.

“Besides distressing life events, personality traits can contribute to sleep problems, specifically if you’re a type A person and are typically anxious,” says Christopher Lowden, MD, associate medical director, Outpatient Services, and Hinsdale psychiatrist. “Statistically, if you are female, and if you’re older, you are more likely to experience sleep disorders.”

Getting adequate sleep is critical to maintaining optimum physical health.

“Sleep can enhance learning and memory and is important in brain development,” says Dr. Lowden. “Our brains work hard all day long and need time to rest and refuel. We can deteriorate cognitively if we don’t get enough quality sleep,” he adds.

There is also a huge correlation between sleep and mental health.

“Many mental health disorders are associated with sleep problems,” says Dr. Lowden. “Symptoms of insomnia are present in 20 to 40% of people with mental illnesses like major depressive disorder, anxiety, alcoholism, and bipolar disorder,” he explains.

Dr. Lowden says it’s wise to develop healthy sleep habits to support our bodies doing the work of preparing us for sleep.

“We accumulate hormones throughout the day that drive us toward sleep, and neurotransmitters in our brains build up the machinery for it,” says Dr. Lowden.

Considerations of common over-the-counter sleep medications

There is help for combatting chronic insomnia.

“Besides psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, medication can help,” says Dr. Lowden. “It’s important to get the length of the medication’s effect just right. If the medicine doesn’t promote sleep enough, sleeplessness will persist. If the medicine promotes sleep too much, grogginess will continue into the next day,” Dr. Lowden adds.

Benzodiazepine is a class of medication that doctors frequently prescribe.

“The advantage is that it can be used very effectively with close monitoring, while the con is that it can lose efficacy over time,” Dr. Lowden explains.  “Additionally, heavy use can lead to withdrawal if a person stops using it, and even in small doses it can lead to rebound insomnia,” he says.

Melatonin is a commonly used over-the-counter medication.

“Melatonin can be tricky because the dose isn’t always reliable, says Dr. Lowden. “You can throw off your body’s natural melatonin cycle, in which case, you wouldn’t be doing your circadian rhythms any favors. I recommend taking smaller doses, like 3 to 5 milligrams for two to three weeks every evening at the same time. It’s important to note sedating affects may take a while. The goal is to get the sleep cycle back on track, then ideally your body can take it from there. As with any medication, it’s best to consult with your doctor,” advises Dr. Lowden.

Help at Rogers for addiction and mental health disorders

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or a mental health challenge, schedule a free screening by calling 800-767-4411 or completing an online request.

Call 800-767-4411 or go to to request a free screening.