sleep meds

  1. Dying to get some sleep

    Some people are lucky enough to fall asleep the moment their head hits the pillow.

    I've never been one of them, but I've never had to rely on sleep meds to get my rest, either, and that's a good thing: The latest warning finds that these drugs come with one whopper of a death risk.

    People who take them the most are 5.3 times more likely to die than people who don't take them at all, according to a new look at data on nearly 35,000 people. As a "bonus," sleeping pill users are also 35 percent more likely to get cancer.

    You don't even have to hit the pill bottle particularly hard to face a dramatic increase in the risk of death, because the researchers found that just 18 pills a year can make you 3.6 times more likely to die.

    Since some 30 million Americans take these meds every single year, the researchers say their study suggests the annual death toll from these drugs is between 320,000 and 507,000 in the United States alone.

    Compare that to the 443,000 U.S. deaths blamed on smoking each year, and that makes these drugs as bad as (or even worse than) cigarettes.

    And that's just crazy, since no one needs these drugs to get some sleep in the first place.

    I asked Dr. Mark Stengler what's keeping so many people up at night, and he said the answer can vary from person to person -- but whatever the reason, most people can find a little short-term help in the form of melatonin.

    He recommends the sublingual form of the so-called "sleep hormone." And if you're having trouble staying asleep, you'll want to get a timed-release version so the melatonin keeps flowing throughout the night.

    In addition, there are some natural herbs -- include the classics like chamomile and passionflower -- that can help you get the rest you need without the risks of meds.

    But Dr. Stengler cautions that these aren't cures so much as temporary fixes.

    "Melatonin won't necessarily treat a sleep problem," he told me. "It'll just help you get to sleep."

    He says the next step is working with your doctor to find the underlying cause of your nighttime woes -- and once you fix that, you won't need anything other than a comfortable pillow to get the rest you need.

  2. Poor sleep linked to hypertension

    If you're battling blood pressure problems, you don't need another med -- you just need better sleep... and that doesn't necessarily mean more sleep.

    "Better" sleep is slow-wave sleep -- the deep sleep that helps to refresh our bodies and restore our minds. And now, a new study finds that people who miss out on it aren't just tired, forgetful, and irritable -- they have a dramatically higher risk of hypertension, too.

    Researchers checked the BP levels and monitored the sleep habits of 784 senior men on two occasions, three and a half years apart.

    They found that men who spend less than 4 percent of the night in slow-wave sleep were 83 percent more likely to develop hypertension between the two tests than men who spend at least 17 percent of the night locked inside that deepest of slumbers.

    The men who got the low-quality sleep were also more likely to get less overall sleep, wake up more often, and even suffer from sleep apnea.

    So how much quality sleep are you getting? There's no way to know for sure without spending a night in a sleep lab. But one way you can tell on your own, right now, is to just see how you feel in the morning.

    If you wake up feeling lousy, odds are you're not getting enough. Poor sleep can do so much more than raise your blood pressure. Lack of sleep and low-quality rest can boost the odds of everything from cognitive decline to an early death.

    You definitely don't want any part of that – but don't rush off to your doctor and beg him for sleep meds, either, because there are natural solutions that can help you to get the best rest of your life.

    One recent study found that seniors can overcome sleep problems with the help of talk therapy in as little as two in-person sessions and two follow-up phone calls. (Read about it here.)

    Other studies have found that you can get relief by making simple lifestyle adjustments -- like cutting back on late-day caffeine -- or easy nutritional additions, such as a calcium and magnesium supplement before bedtime.

    For more on the risks of sleepless nights -- and how to beat them -- read this.

  3. Sleeping pills linked to shorter lifespan

    Looks like sleep meds might do the job just a little too well: A new study finds that they might help you achieve the Big Sleep.

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