Just Say “No” to Sleep Aids

A new review of past research suggests that sleep medications for shift workers barely increased the length of time they slept after a shift – and only moderately improved their alertness while they were awake. Researchers writing in the “Cochrane Review” found that the much-touted melatonin (the so-called “sleep hormone”) increased the average length of sleep time after a night shift by just 24 minutes – and even then, that 24 minutes of additional sleep was “low quality”.

Almost one in five Americans now works a shift that forces an irregular, unnatural, and unhealthy sleep schedule, and pharmaceuticals are cashing in: sleep-deprived Americans are pumping $32 billion a year into the sleep aid industry.

And today’s new generation of sleep aids are even worse.  A recent study described in the New York Times Magazine explained that “hypnotic” drugs like Lunesta and Ambien don’t actually help you sleep; they only black out your memory of tossing and turning (and in extreme cases, walking into the kitchen, eating and entire cake, and even driving down the street and stabbing your neighbor to death).

Interestingly enough, on the same day that this study was published, another study out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital finds that astronauts aren’t getting enough sleep during space missions: just over six hours each day.  And as a result, they’re over-medicating themselves.

It all comes down to a fundamental fact that our go-go “cure it with a pill” society insists on ignoring:  human beings were meant to SLEEP AT NIGHT.  Period.  We are not nocturnal creatures.  As a defense mechanism, our bodies will not allow themselves to descend into the deepest levels of sleep during the day after working a night shift, because the body knows that predators are afoot during the day, and we may need to be up and running at a moment’s notice.  So no matter how many drugs you take, no matter how many blackout shades you put over the windows, and regardless of your use of sleep masks and ear plugs, even if you get 8 hours of sleep during the day, it will be of poor quality and not the restorative sleep the body really needs.

We are also an inseparable part of our ecosystem, and it is essential that our biorhythms be in perfect sync with the Earth’s circadian rhythm.  Is it any surprise that when humans are taken OFF the Earth and put into spaceships that their sleep suffers (even with medication)??