Sleep aids mess you up even when you're awake

Blood shot eyes... slow, shuffling walk... slurred speech.

No, these aren't Halloween zombies out creeping around today on the hunt for brains (or at least some candy).

They're what you'll see out there every day, as millions of Americans struggle with sleep problems.

Losing sleep just once can make you miserable. Missing out night after night is like living in a nightmare -- so, I can certainly understand the appeal of sleep meds.

They're some of the best-selling drugs in the nation.

Don't give into that temptation, because new research reveals a potentially life-altering risk.

And this one is especially dangerous for older folks.

These meds can lead directly to a fall.

That's already a major risk that comes with the turf as you get older. The new study finds that even without meds or sleep problems, your odds of falling are at about 28 percent.

Once you throw lost sleep into the mix, that risk jumps. It leaps all the way to 40 percent if you have the four major warning signs:

  1. trouble falling asleep
  2. trouble staying asleep
  3. waking up too early, and
  4. waking up feeling crummy.

You'd think that getting more sleep would cut the risk of a fall -- and I'm sure it would, if you got more sleep naturally.

But when that extra sleep comes from a drug, the new study finds your risk of a fall actually RISES!

The reasons are pretty simple: Even if the drugs knock you out, you could still wake up in the night, maybe to use the bathroom, and when you do, you're even groggier because of the effects of meds.

These drugs are also so powerful that you could still be off-kilter the next morning, even after a full night of rest.

And for what? Studies show many sleep drugs on average provide an extra 8 to 20 minutes of rest.

That's it.

There's a better way to get more sleep, one that will help you get a full night of rest without increasing your risk of falls or causing the notorious side effects of sleep drugs.

For short-term aid, try natural herbal therapies such as chamomile, passionflower, and valerian. You can often find all three together in one tea blend.

Homeopathic sleep aids and melatonin can also help.

More serious sleep problems, especially long-term battles with insomnia, are often a warning sign of something else going on your body. If you're a little older, it's often a hormonal issue.

If you're in the San Diego area, I can test for and treat all the possible causes of sleep loss here at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine.

Not in the area? I'm also available for advice by phone. Call 855-DOC-MARK to schedule a consultation.

And don't forget to connect with me on Facebook!