Sleeping Pills & Driving
Why you should hide the keys before you pop a sleeping pill
Everyone knows the dangers a drinking and driving but lately the perils of taking sleep meds and driving is headline news. You may remember when Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, crashed her SUV. She blamed the incident on popping a sleeping pill instead of her thyroid medication, which left her with no memory (or accountability) for her actions.
Incidents like Kerry’s have become more common with the prevalence of prescription sleep meds such as Ambien and Lunesta. According to the CDC, about 1 in 25 Americans use a sleep aid to help them sleep at least once a month. Not to mention, some people reported sleep-eating. Can you imagine trying to lose weight only to gain it instead because your sleeping meds led you to the kitchen for midnight snacking? Or as in Anna Kendrick’s case, waking up on a plane in different clothes than you boarded in? No thanks.
Furthermore, Ambien can stay in your system long enough that the next morning it can still effect your driving – especially women who metabolize medication slower.
ABC News’ Lisa Stark tried driving while on Ambien in a driving simulator at University of Iowa to show just how dangerous sleep driving can be. You can watch the results of that experiment here.
So what can you do to ensure a good night’s sleep – and safety on the roads? As you can imagine, the answer is neither simple nor easy.
Alternative treatments for insomnia
Insomnia is the most common reason people use prescription sleep aids such as Lunesta. But pills aren’t the only answer to this debilitating problem. For chronic insomnia – disrupted sleep for 3 or 4 nights a week – behavioral therapy is an option. A therapist can help you unlearn damaging sleep habits and replace them with healthier sleep behaviors. For example, instead of going to bed only when you’re tried, you might be directed to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, as well as learn some relaxation tips for times when you can’t sleep.
If your sleep is disrupted randomly because of stress or hormones, it might be time to reassess your nightly bedtime routine.
- Are you using electronics – TV, smartphone, tablet before bed? If so, turn them off at least an hour before bed.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine intake before bed. Too much of either and you won’t be sleeping well.
- It might be time for a new mattress or different sheets – comfort is key when it comes to restful sleep.
- Also, watch the lighting and temperature of your bedroom as those too have an effect on your sleep.
If you have to take sleeping pills to sleep…
If you’ve decided to use sleep medication to get the sleep you need, talk to your doctor about short-term use of an over-the-counter sleep aid. Ask him or her to recommend a brand that addresses your unique challenges.
If your sleep problems persist, ask your doctor about prescription sleep medications. Most doctors use medication as a short-term solution for chronic insomnia and encourage simultaneous behavior therapy. Insomnia, if left untreated, can put you at risk a slew of health problems, such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Insomnia is a serious problem and you need to be an active participant in the solution. These resources will help you begin your research so you know what to ask your doctor.