Sleep meds are half placebo

There's a pill out there that's almost as effective as our most common sleeping pills, but comes with none of the risks or side effects.

It's not some newer, better drug.

It's something that's been around forever -- the placebo effect, and in a new look at data from 13 studies, it was shown to take just 20 minutes longer than "real" sleeping pills.

Sleeping pills themselves take an average of about 22 minutes to kick in according to the study of more than 4,300 patients who took either Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, or their generic equivalents. But if you're willing to wait just 20 measly minutes more the placebo effect can deliver the same thing.

The researchers say that makes the drugs of "questionable clinical importance," but I'd go even further than that. I think these drugs are beyond questionable at this point, even when they do help you get those 20 extra minutes of sleep.

That's because the risks are far worse than that minor benefit, starting with the fact that it's not even quality sleep.

Many people wake up feeling just plain lousy -- the infamous "sleeping pill hangover" - and that's why more are turning into the placebo effect. That groggy feeling can lead to impaired driving the next morning, which is why the FDA just cut the dose of the most common sleep meds in half.

In addition, sleeping pills can cause memory loss and increase the risk of dementia, pneumonia, and falls which can lead to fractures. Not to mention in a recent study one brand showed a mind-boggling 500 percent increase in the risk of a premature death.

That's why these drugs should only be used when natural approaches like the placebo effect don't work and only for the short term. And in most cases, they can be avoided completely.

For example, I take a two-part all-natural approach with my own patients.

Part one is for the short term. If you need help getting sleep tonight, try some combination of melatonin, GABA, theanine, and Inositol. But those are quick fixes, not cures -- so part two involves finding and correcting the underlying cause of sleep disorders.

In some cases, it's a lifestyle problem that can be corrected with a simple change in habits.

In many other cases, it's a combination of nutritional deficiencies and hormonal imbalances. A holistic physician can help you get to the bottom of it.

And for comprehensive hormone testing in Southern California, make an appointment to see me at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine.