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SLEEP AND PAIN: EFFICACY OF MEDICATION

Most people are surprised to find out that medications prescribed for sleep problems may not be very effective in the long term.

The old ‘classical’ sleeping pills, such as the barbiturates, have been proven to help only briefly. In regular use they actually impair sleep to the extent that after only 2 weeks of use sleep will be worse than it was before taking the medication.

Research done on the newer benzodiazepine group of sleeping pills such as Euhypnos, Normison, Mogadon, Dalmane and Ro-hypnol, and their close relatives Serepax, Valium and Xanax, indicates that they are useful for a longer period of time than the older drugs. However it is not known how much longer they will stay effective.

A major problem with all sleeping medication is that of ‘rebound’ insomnia. This means that when you stop taking the medication your sleep does not revert to the way it was. There is a rebound effect in which sleep may be very impaired due to the drug being stopped.

Most sedatives also suppress dreaming. Normally we dream about every 90 minutes of the night. This occurs whether you remember the dreams or not. When dreaming which occurs during so-called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is suppressed by medications there is often a prolonged period of rebound dreaming in which the dreams often take the form of nightmares.

Because of these factors, drugs are not usually the best solution to the problem of insomnia. There are, however, a number of things which you can do to improve your sleep.

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