Side Effects of Sedatives You Didn’t Know About

Sedatives are a category of drugs that function as central nervous system (CNS) depressants and slow down your brain activity, causing relaxation or drowsiness.

Sedatives affect the neurotransmitter (chemicals conducting brain cell communication), gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA, which decreases brain activity.

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Numerous types of sedatives are sold today, including barbiturates such as Nembutal and benzodiazepines such as Valium.

Unfortunately, such drugs can be potentially abused leading to consequences associated with dependence and drug overdose.

Sedatives, however, should be considered as one’s last resort due the side effects that can result from frequent use. Other effective treatments for lack of sleep and stress that cause minimal to zero side effects will be covered later in this article.

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Effects of sedatives on the body

Taking sedatives may be tempting but it is important to understand that they should only be taken as prescribed by a medical professional.

Initially, you may lack the motivation to work or carry on your day’s functions because you’ll most likely be uncoordinated and drowsy after waking up from a sedative-induced slumber. However, this effect will go down with time.

Furthermore, long term use may lead to the development of tolerance and larger or stronger doses may be required to achieve the same initial results.

Continued use will therefore, lead to physical and possibly emotional dependence, which is a completely different story altogether – if you stop taking the drug after being dependent on it, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Hence, your best bet would be to prevent these consequences from creeping in.

Unfortunately, tolerance to a drug is likely to occur over time causing a person to take more and more of the drug until he or she achieves the desired effect.

Taking more than two doses too soon in order to achieve an euphoric state may lead to overdose causing coma and death.

Taking sedatives may be tempting but it is important to understand that they should only be taken as prescribed by a medical professional.

Signs of a person abusing sedatives include slurred speech, drowsiness, staggering, trembling hands, dilated pupils, poor coordination and lack of concentration.

The person may look disoriented, distressed and confused. Mood swings and irritability are also common side effects of sedative overdose.

Your doctor may warn you about potential side effects of sleeping pills, especially if you have asthma or other medical conditions.

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Make sure you let your doctor know about your entire health and medical history before he prescribes the required drugs.

Some common physical side effects of sleeping pills include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Burning or tingling sensation in hands, arms, feet or legs
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Lack of coordination
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain or tenderness
  • Inability to perform optimally the next day
  • Weakness
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a certain part of the body

Other unpleasant and common side effects of frequent sedative use or overdose include:

  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Aggression
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm/injury
  • Loss of personality and hallucinations

Sedatives or CNS depressants normally work by slowing down brain activity but once a person gets used to them and has to stop use, brain functions may rebound, lose control and lead to seizures and other detrimental consequences.

RELATED: The Top 20 Natural Sleep Remedies For Better Sleep & Improved Health 

If a person is on a sedative for a long period, the doctor may be concerned about his or her health and wellbeing and choose to cut the patient off of the prescribed drug.  Since the person is dependent on the drug, this sometimes leads to black market purchases, fraud, getting the drug from the internet or doctor-shopping.

In addition, the effects of sedatives do not wear off right after waking or when they are supposed to. As mentioned earlier, the person may still feel drowsy and this could lead to irritability sometimes. This may cause the person to not drive a vehicle properly, take care of children or be attentive enough towards their needs, be productive and efficient at work, be attentive and focused during class and overall, achieve success in various aspects of their life.

Needless to say it is difficult and almost impossible to enjoy life in a drowsy and dependent state of mind.

Parainsomnia

More complex side effects are also common with sleeping pills. One example is parainsomnia. Parainsomnia is a state at which you may perform various actions without any control of yourself.

You are asleep, and you are not aware of what you are doing and what is happening around you. You could say it’s similar to sleep walking but when you experience parainsomnia from sleeping pills, you may be talking to people or making phone calls, sleep eating or even having sex in a sleep state.

Sleep driving is another harmful side effect that could lead to fatal accidents.

Parainsomnia is a rare phenomenon and it is difficult to identify once the person starts taking pills.

Make sure you talk to your doctor about possible side effects and complex behaviors that may occur from sedative use. Make sure you only stick to the pills your doctor prescribes and never increase your dosage.

If you feel the pill doesn’t have the same effect on you as it did earlier, talk to your doctor to determine a safer solution that doesn’t have the potential of causing drug overdose.

Allergies

It is possible to have an allergic reaction to a sedative. Signs and symptoms of allergies include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision or any problems associated with your sight
  • Breathing or swallowing difficulty
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Having a feeling of your throat closing or becoming tighter
  • Hives
  • Rashes
  • Itching
  • Hoarsens
  • Swelling of the eyes, lips, tongue, throat or face

Anaphylaxis is also a possible outcome of taking a medication you are seriously allergic too. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction which can cause death. If you or a person near you has an anaphylactic attack, call 911 or your local emergency number and follow their given instructions.

Here’s a first aid guide for an anaphylactic attack. It is important that you act fast as anaphylaxis can lead to death.

Make sure you talk to your doctor about the possible outcomes of taking a pill, its side effects and chances of you being allergic.

If you suspect you are allergic to a drug for any reason, stop taking it and see a doctor immediately.

Sleeping pills and alcohol: Do they mix?

Mixing sleeping pills with alcohol is a recipe for disaster. Combining both can increase the sedative effect of sleeping pills or CNS depressants, making them more hazardous to the body. If you read the labels on sleeping pills and sedative drugs, you’ll notice that they warn you against combining the pills with alcohol. Experts also advise against having grapefruit or grapefruit juice with sleeping pills as it allows the body to absorb more of the drug into the bloodstream causing it to become over-sedated.

How to prevent drug abuse

If you do decide to take sleeping pills, make sure you provide a complete medical history and a detailed narrative on why you are visiting. The doctor needs to understand your worries and thus, prescribe suitable medication based on your medical history, presence of any current health conditions, health concerns, lifestyle and other factors.

Whether your doctor prescribes a CNS depressant, stimulant or pain medication, you need to follow his or her instructions very carefully and not stray from the doctor’s orders. Learn about the drug prescribed (Google is your friend!) and educate yourself on the possible side effects it could have on the body. Ask your doctor about how your body will react to the medication and how it will adapt to it. Will you be too drowsy on the first day and are there any initial effects that you should be warned about?

It is important to provide a thorough medical history and notify the doctor if you’re taking any medication because the drug may interact with other medications or supplements you are currently taking.

Avoid increasing your dosage without talking to your doctor about it and never use another person’s prescription.

Natural Alternatives For Sedatives

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Sedatives are typically prescribed for anxiety, sleep disorders and panic attacks; however, we all know they come with their own set of drawbacks. Fortunately, there are numerous natural alternatives for sedatives that not only relax your body but improve your quality of life as well.

Chamomile

If you’re feeling anxious or stressed out, a cup of chamomile tea might help. Chamomile tea soothes the muscles in your body and allows you to calm down.

Certain compounds in chamomile bind to the same receptors in the brain as sedative drugs like Valium do. 

Chamomile can also be found in supplement form.

A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center found that patients with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) experienced a substantial decline in anxiety symptoms while taking chamomile supplements for eight weeks compared to those who took a placebo.

Valerian

Valerian is a sedative herb that promotes sleep and reduces anxiety. It is non-addictive and natural. Valerian binds to the benzodiazepine sites in the brain, increasing GABA levels and stopping the neurons from firing away. This calms the body and provides a natural sedative effect.

Green tea

Green teaconsists of the amino acid L-theanine which regulates elevated heart rate and blood pressure and reduces anxiety in some adults. Drinking 5 cups of green tea per day can benefit your body immensely but make sure you don’t have it close to bedtime as it contains a small amount of caffeine.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a popular sleep aid that may improve various sleep conditions and improve quality of sleep and morning alertness.

Melatonin is a hormone that naturally occurs in the body and regulates your biological clock. Serotonin produces melatonin when light exposure decreases at night, which is why an ideal sleep environment is always dark and cool.

Experts recommend a cool environment because, in an attempt to warm up your body, your body also produces melatonin. Therefore, take a relaxing bath before you hit the bed.

Melatonin can be found in supplement form and should be taken up to 2 hours before bedtime.

Gotu kola

Gotu kola is an important Chinese medicinal herb and Indian ayurvedic treatment. Gotu kola is popularly used to treat various disorders, including poor memory, mental fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, nervous conditions, epilepsy and skin diseases.

RELATED: 14 Ways To Sleep Better Naturally 

One published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and pharmacology in September 2007 discovered that gotu kola stimulates an enzyme called glutamic acid decarboxylase which increases the production of GABA levels in the brain.

Dong quai

Dong quai is an herb used in tradition Japanese, Chinese and Korean medicine and it is commonly known as the female ginseng because it treats female reproductive problems, which include anxiety and depression associated with menopause and PMS.

A study published in Phytochemical Analysis, November 2006 issue, discovered that dong quai consists of two compounds, riligustilide and gelispirolide, which bind to GABAa receptors in the brain and produce a sedative effect.

Noni

Noni  is the Hawaiian name given to a tropical tree which produces a bitter fruit with a very pungent odor that holds powerful medicinal properties.

A study published in Phytomedicine, August 2007 issue, discovered that noni fruit extract consists of compounds that binds to GABAa receptors, elevating GABA levels in the brain and produces a sedative effect in the body.

Meditation

Practicing meditation regularly not only reduces stress hormone levels, but it calms your breathing and helps you sleep better too. Meditation is a simple yet highly effective technique that involves focusing on one object or thought, such as your breathing, a sound, an object near your or a word.

This increases your awareness of your body and the present and allows the body to relax and the mind to calm down.

So if your thoughts decide to go on overdrive during bedtime, this may just do the trick.

Hypnosis

hypnosis a person is more aware, focused and he or she is open to suggestion. Hypnosis may affect the physiological state of the body, causing effects such as decreased elevated heart rate and blood pressure.

It works similar to meditation and calms the body down.

Several studies indicate that hypnosis may reduce the time it takes for a person to fall asleep and increase the duration and quality of sleep. However, how hypnosis works is still not certain.

Aromatherapy

Again, we are focusing on calming and relaxing the body to reduce stress and anxiety and help the body get ready to sleep.

English lavender aromatherapy oil is an alternative treatment for those who have trouble falling asleep. Lavender oil is considered to be one of the most relaxing essential oils and is thus, ideal for people having trouble sleeping.

Lavender oils may work better for women than for men because women are sensitive to scents than men are.

You can place a dried lavender sachet under your pillow or add a few drops of lavender essential oil to your bath water or handkerchief.

Chamomile an ylang ylang are other essential oils that may be used as sleep aids.

Yoga

Yoga is a system consisting of two important aspects, posture and breathing. It is a relaxing and potent breathing exercise that helps people reduce stress, calm the body, become more positive, sleep more and just enjoy life.

Here is a 30 minute bedtime yoga sequence by Yoga by Adriene which will definitely help you sleep sound at night:

Reduce light exposure

Proper sleep hygiene is vital for everybody to sleep calmly at night and wake up fresh in the morning.

First you need to get rid of all flickering electronics that produce blue light, such as the TV, laptop and yes, your cellphone too.

Ideally, you’ll have all these items out of your bedroom, as it is meant for only sleep and sex, but some items such as your cellphone cannot be kept out so switch it off an hour before going to bed.

Studies show that blue light negatively affects quality of sleep and keeps people up at night.

In addition, if you have a delayed sleep-phase syndrome, consider exposing yourself to more sunlight in the morning.

As mentioned above, light plays a crucial role in allowing the body to shut down and wake up by altering melatonin levels. If you feel drowsy in the morning, go out and walk for 30 minutes. This will give you the morning light your body needs and a nice exercise too.

Your diet

If you are constantly suffering from anxiety and find it difficult to bounce back or have trouble falling asleep, your diet may have a major role to play as well. Consider avoiding the following foods if you have trouble falling asleep at night:

  • Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol – Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that have a negative effect on sleep, causing restlessness during bed time, anxiety, and insomnia. Common sources of caffeine include coffee, tea, energy drinks, soft drinks and sometimes chocolate. If you’re a fan of your coffee or tea, have them during daytime and as far away from bedtime as possible. Alcohol is another stimulant that causes disturbed sleep, even if you fall asleep faster.
  • Sugar – Sugar may give you a quick boost of energy but the effects are short-lived and can cause dramatic blood sugar spikes. This may disrupt your sleep pattern and cause you to wake up frequently in the middle of the night. Again, avoid sugary snacks before bed.

Instead, have the following:

  • A warm glass of milk – The reason this helps is still unknown but some people swear by it.
  • Turkey – Having turkey for dinner may help you sleep because it is rich in the amino acid tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin. Serotonin is converted to melatonin at night, which helps you sleep.
  • Vitamin B6 – Foods rich in vitamin B6 which include bananas, sunflower seeds and wheat germ aid in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.
  • Magnesium – Magnesium rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, cashews, seeds, legumes, wheat bran and whole grains help the body fall asleep much faster. Magnesium is a natural sedative and not having enough of it from your diet can cause sleeping problems, anxiety, cramps, muscle tremors, irritability, pain and constipation. Try these drinks at night before going to sleep.

Exercise

Exercising during the a.m. will not only give you that morning light exposure to start your day with energy and positivity, it will also improve your sleep quality and reduce stress in the long term.

Exercising regularly improves self-esteem, boosts confidence and allows you to enjoy your day with that healthy glow on your face.

Read Next: 9 Best Natural Sleep Remedies For Children 

Sources:

https://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/sleep-and-parasomnias
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17561385
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18066140
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19593179
https://www.allergyuk.org/severe-allergy-and-anaphylaxis/first-aid-for-anaphylaxis