Sometimes we have questions for a doctor, but don’t want to make an appointment to ask them. Because of that, we created Ask Dr. Lisa! We pick out sleep-related questions submitted on our Facebook Page, and send them to our medical sleep expert, Dr. Lisa Shives, for an answer. In this installment, Dr. Lisa talks about sleep aids.
Kate Dickman asks: Do sleep aids like Ambien actually give you a good night’s rest? I feel like it’s almost artificial sleep if that makes any sense. I never feel truly rested yet it helps me shut my brain off and finally fall asleep. Is there a solution for people who have a hard time falling asleep to get to sleep but sleep WELL?
There are certainly cases where prescription sleep aids are necessary, but I believe they are over-prescribed. While I’m not by any stretch saying you should stop taking them (consult with your doctor on that), many people would benefit from cognitive behavior therapy addressing insomnia rather than medicating themselves to sleep every night. You’re absolutely right in thinking that using medication often leads to unrefreshing sleep in so far as many people complain of feeing groggy the next day, so what is the point of using the medication? Natural slumber is absolutely preferred, and will leave you more rested than sleep that has been induced by medicine.
Regarding the second part of your question – it’s hard to answer without a full exam to try to search for the root of your troubles. Generally speaking, if you have difficulty “shutting your brain off”, that is exactly the type of problem that is addressed by cognitive behavioral therapy. In the CBT sessions (which can be found online), you will learn relaxation techniques. You will be advised to avoid television or electronic devices like smartphones and iPads before bed, as they can overexcite the brain and the light they give off can stimulate your brain into thinking that it is time to get up and feed the chickens.
Dr. Shives works with SleepBetter.org to provide a medical view of sleep issues. She is one of only a few practitioners with a fellowship in Sleep Medicine in addition to board certification by both the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Sleep Medicine.