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Should you take sleeping pills?

If you have trouble sleeping, you may be tempted to pop a sleeping pill in order to get a good night’s rest. But are sleeping pills the most effective way to treat sleep issues? And how long should you take them?

Paul Zolty, M.D., a pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist at Piedmont, shares his thoughts.

“The main reason people take sleeping pills is because of insomnia, which is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep,” says Dr. Zolty. “Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder that exists. And it affects about one-third of adults on a weekly basis.”

And while some patients see sleeping pills as an easy fix, Dr. Zolty says the first step in treating sleep disorders should be identifying the underlying cause of the problem.

“There are many different causes of insomnia,” Dr. Zolty says. “People may have difficulty falling asleep because they do nightshift work, or they may be drinking too much caffeine just before going to bed.  There are also medical and psychological disorders that can result in difficulty sleeping.’

Once the underlying cause of insomnia has been identified, Dr. Zolty recommends a process called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) before reverting to sleeping pills.  

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapy treatment that uses a practical approach to change patterns of thinking or behavior.

“With insomnia, the problem is people start thinking that the reason they’re not functioning well is because they are not sleeping,” Dr. Zolty says. “They begin to focus on their sleep pattern, and then they start getting anxious about not sleeping. When coupled with maladaptive behaviors, this starts a vicious cycle. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches trains people how to relax when they go to sleep, teaches them routines and helps to diffuse their concerns about sleep.”

Many insomnia sufferers find long-term relief by using CBT techniques. However, Dr. Zolty says sometimes a combination of CBT and sleeping pills may be the best solution for chronic insomnia sufferers, those who have insomnia for six months or more.

Practicing good sleep hygiene

Other ways to combat insomnia and secure a good night’s rest include:

  • Limiting your caffeine intake
  • Not watching TV in bed
  • Not exercising just before going to sleep
  • Monitoring your napping schedule during the day

“You should only consider using sleeping pills after you’ve addressed all of these behavioral methods,” Dr. Zolty says. “And if you do use medicine, you should do it responsibly, and be very careful about the sedation effects the next day, because that's how accidents happen.” 

To learn more about treatment for sleep disorders, visit Piedmont Sleep Services.

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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