Dealing with Sleep Issues.

Sleep is important, as demonstrated by this owl. Or, maybe it’s just focusing really hard, who knows. Anyway…Here’s my take on how to best deal with sleep issues.

Cute owl right?

I want to start by saying, PLEASE do not take sleep issues lightly. If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, it’s something that I think should be addressed immediately.

If you’re someone having sleep issues, before trying any medications it’s best to try and see if something that’s causing it can be addressed. A couple things to immediately assess are exercise, caffeine and alcohol intake in the evening. It’s important to try and keep an account of the things you do leading up to bedtime as pre-sleep habits are imperative to getting a good night’s rest. It is a common misconception that alcohol helps people go to sleep. While it is true alcohol helps people fall asleep quicker, it does not provide a good night’s rest and can actually cause you to wake up more often at night. So yes, if you’re having trouble staying awake at night, you might have to put down that glass of wine.

The following are my best tips for good pre-sleep habits:

  • Try to plan to go to sleep around the same time every night, even on weekends.
  • Your bedroom should be fairly quiet and with dim lighting. In other words, no more blasting Pitbull to the beat of strobe lights at 10:30 pm.
  • Make sure your bedroom is only used for sleep (or sexual activity). That way your mind is trained that when you’re in your room, it knows it’s almost bedtime.
  • Be sure to exercise regularly, but not too late in the evening! This is a common problem for people working out after work, which can cause insomnia.
  • Try to only engage in relaxing activity one to two hours before bedtime. For example, try reading, or watching a non-stimulating show (No Game of Thrones or Walking dead!)
  • Limit your daytime naps to 30 minutes. Sleeping too much during the day can contribute to nighttime sleep problems.
  • As mentioned above, avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine especially in the evening.
  • Speak with your pharmacist about your medications to see if they might be causing your insomnia.

So you’ve perfected your pre-sleep habits but still no luck? It might be time for a trip to the pharmacy.

What I usually recommend for sleep is Benadryl. I usually recommend this for people who can pin point why they can’t sleep, i.e, family hardship, jet lag, or a change in sleep environment. The downfalls of Benadryl are a very groggy feeling the next morning and the possible interactions with some medications or health issues. Because of this, it is very important to talk with your health care provider before starting. It’s also important to note the generic of Benadryl is called diphenhydramine, which is usually listed as an allergy medication. But don’t be fooled! Almost all of your over-the-counter sleep aids contain diphenhydramine as the active ingredient, the ingredient causing you to go to sleep. They just slap the title “sleep aid” on there and charge you more. You’re welcome.

For example, I checked some prices at Walmart in case you didn’t believe me:

ZzzQuil = $13.47 for a box of 48
Diphenhydramine = $4 for a box of 100

The other recommendation I give my patients is Melatonin. It’s a natural product available over-the-counter at the pharmacy. It’s best for people who can’t really pinpoint or fix what’s causing their insomnia. Melatonin helps people get back into a normal sleep routine. It’s important to note that this usually takes time to work. Up to a few days or even weeks to get the full effect. It’s a great option for long term use since it doesn’t have many interactions with other medications and is generally safe to use in most people.

If you have tried everything I’ve covered here, and still not getting a full night’s rest, you may need to consider an appointment with your primary care provider for further evaluation. Again, sleep is super important and it should be addressed as soon as possible if you’re having sleep issues.

I really hope this was helpful. As always, do not start or change the way you use any medications without first talking with your pharmacist or primary care provider.

Please reach out to me if you have any other questions!

Take care.


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Richard Waithe, PharmD |

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