Sleep, but at what cost?

Sleep, but at what cost?

And that’s why many people use medication to sleep better and alleviate the effects of insomnia and its side effects. Are these medications bad for you? What are the potential dangers? This article provides information that can help you better understand what sleeping aids are and how they can affect your health.

Sleep and its benefits

When the brain sees light, it releases 5 hormones that keep us awake: histamine, glutamate, acetylcholine, noradrenalin and serotonin. When the brain receives signals that daylight is fading or gone, the hypothalamus (or midbrain) secretes melatonin, a hormone that plays a crucial role in regulating sleep. It is often at this stage where problems arise for many suffering from insomnia (French only). As a result, the doctor Jonathan Fleming, former co-director of the sleep disorders program at UBC Hospital in Vancouver, explains that “in addition to feeling tired and sleepy during the day (French only), people who don’t get enough sleep may be irritable, depressed and anxious, may have difficulty concentrating and paying attention, and may experience headaches and digestive problems.”

How do sleeping aids work?

There are several groups of sleeping aids, all with positive and negative aspects. Most sleeping aids on the market contain melatonin and have a significant sedative effect, whereas others cause the brain to calm neuronal activity and promote sleep.

Long-term health consequences

Doctor Marc Leavey at Baltimore Hospital believes that sleeping aids must be used to treat insomnia for short periods only. Beyond 10 days, the risk of becoming dependent increases. Often, in addition to increased dependence, are unwanted side effects the next day, says Dr. Leavey. To avoid drowsiness in the morning, it is important to follow your doctor’s recommended dosage and make sure you have at least 7 hours of sleep ahead of you to fully recuperate.

Interesting alternatives

There are other interesting alternatives to sleeping aids:

Improving your sleep hygiene

Identifying good and bad sleeping habits is the first step in dealing with insomnia. Make a list of good habits you would like to keep, then a second list of those you’d like to change.


Several specialized sleep centres can help you adopt healthy sleep habits. Other therapies like cognitive-behavioural therapy may also help you better understand where the problems stem from.

Natural products

Natural products are often recommended to treat sleep problems. Make sure they aren’t dangerous however. Some of them may have contraindications if they are taken with other medication.

Talk to your health professional to make sure you are taking medication that is right for you.

Little things that can make all the difference

Quite a few things can affect how well you sleep. The following are a few tips to help you get the most rest possible.

Stay away from your smartphone or tablet screen

The light generated by these devices slows the production of melatonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone. The general recommendation is to avoid these types of screens at least one hour before bedtime.

Don’t overeat

Meals that are rich in fat or protein are very difficult to digest and can easily contribute to poor sleep. Eat your last meal of the day at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. And that goes for snacks too!

Keep it cool in the bedroom

It’s easy to believe that a warm cozy bedroom, especially on cold winter nights, is a good incentive to nodding off. In fact, studies show that the opposite is true. A warm room increases body temperature, which wards off drowsiness. So turn down the thermostat a little, to a level that feels comfortable.