Caffeine and sleeping pills remain some of the most popular supplements taken on a daily basis. Although they are helpful in the short-term, these supplements create a never-ending cycle of stimulation and drowsiness that move you ever further from a good night’s sleep. The best approach to improved sleeping remains to reduce caffeine dependence and take sleeping pills only for short-term issues with falling asleep. In fact, sleeping pill dependence can actually promote insomnia.
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Effects of Caffeine on Sleep
Caffeine is a widely used drug and is not harmful if taken in moderation. This stimulant is found in colas, coffees and teas, and increasingly in energy drinks and caffeine pills. Caffeine is a legal stimulant, increasing wakefulness and alertness for a few hours. While caffeine effectively increases alertness during the day, the substance has a damaging effect on sleep. Caffeine increases the time it takes to get to sleep and also reduces time spent in deep sleep. For better sleep, do not take substances containing caffeine for at least six hours before bed.
Facts about Caffeine Dependence
Caffeine also causes a dependence that many people are unaware of until they cannot get their morning "joe." Typical symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include sleepiness, headache, and reductions in attention span, says the National Sleep Foundation. The feeling of “extra awakeness” that regular coffee drinkers experience is actually the ending of caffeine withdrawal that occurred since the last cup of coffee was had.
The Vicious Circle of OTC Sleeping Pills
Sleeping pills that you can buy over-the-counter can also lead to more sleep problems than they cure. These active ingredients in most sleeping pills are antihistamines, the same substances used for allergic reactions. Grogginess from anthistamine-based sleeping pills can last longer than the night, leading people to take caffeine to wake back up. This vicious circle rarely improves sleep health in the long run.
The Tolerance Trap
Prescription sleeping pills are sedatives that make it easier for you to get to sleep and stay asleep. Sleep doctors recommend these pills only for the short term, due to the likelihood of the body adjusting to the medication, also known as tolerance. Even powerful sleeping pills known as benzodiazepines can become completely ineffective in three to four weeks.
Dependence is also an issue with prescription sleeping pills, as long-term use can make it impossible to get to sleep without the medication. To make matters worse, quitting prescription sleeping pills can cause “rebound insomnia,” which is often worse than the original sleeping problem. Talk to your doctor about the most effective way to benefit from prescription sleeping pills and spring back to natural and healthy sleep.
- National Sleep Foundation: Caffeine and Sleep
- “Neuropsychopharmacology:” Caffeine Reduces Low-frequency Delta Activity in the Human Sleep EEG; 1995 May; vol.12, no.3, pp.229-38
- Helpguide: Sleeping Pills, Natural Sleep Aids and Medication
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Understanding Sleep