Worldwide Telephone Nutritional Coaching Since 2001
Home > Blog > Adrenal Health > The Problem with Common Sleep Aids and What to Do About It

The Problem with Common Sleep Aids and What to Do About It

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

The use of Common Sleep Aids are linked with more frequent ER visitsEmergency room visits are on the rise by nearly 220% in recent years, according to CBS News. These visits have been linked to an active ingredient known as zolpidem and can be found in many common sleep aids.

Over 6000 visits to the ER were reported in 2005 alone due to sleeping medications. However, in more recent years it has spiked to close to 19,500 visits. This is a staggering increase in just a short five year span. Many of the patients that were admitted were over 45 years of age. SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, provided this information.

Short-term sleep aids can be of significant benefit to individuals, but it’s strongly cautioned that they are taken as directed and monitored frequently.

While the reason for these ER visits may not be fully linked to zolpidem, the increase in visits is staggering. Nearly 4.9 million visits were reported over the past several years, so it’s highly recommended that you take the medication with caution and only if recommended by a physician.

Zolpidem was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat individuals who have short-term insomnia. However, after just a short period of time on the market the FDA started to see more and more reports of adverse reactions. If you drive or do activities that require alertness the morning after taking the medication you should be cautioned. There is also an extended release form of this pill that could be more concerning to individuals who take it at night before bed. Women seem to be more susceptible to the effects of the medication as their bodies rid the ingredient at a much slower rate then men.

How Common Sleep Aids React After Ingestion

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis plays a significant role in how our body reacts to and manages stress and anxiety-related issues. These two issues, unfortunately, are two of the culprits that cause sleeping problems, and why so many medical practitioners prescribe sleeping aids to their patients.

When you are under stress, your adrenal glands produce cortisol in an effort to keep you on your toes. The cortisol, together with other hormones, such as adrenalin, put your body in a fight or flight mode so that you are prepared to deal with any situation. In turn, this affects the brain’s melatonin production. Melatonin is the ‘sleep’ hormone. Less melatonin equates to less sleep.

If stress persists your body needs to adjust to a heightened and prolonged cortisol output and certain symptoms start emerging, of which insomnia is but one. The result? You are most probably prescribed a common sleeping aid.
The problem with these sleeping aids is that although they tend to dampen down the cortisol output, they usually have a particular set of side effects of their own.

Common side effects of sleeping aids:

  • Bowel movement problems, i.e. constipation or diarrhea/tender stomach
  • Constantly feeling tired and/or weak
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Brain fog
  • Appetite changes, i.e. eating either more or less than usual
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Waking up with a hangover

Common sleep aids and constipationBut there is even more. Continuous use of common sleeping aids disrupts your sleeping cycle. Because the sleeping aids do not address the direct cause of the problem, only dampening down the body’s natural reaction to stress, the body strives to produce even more of the necessary hormones it needs to do so. Eventually, your endocrine system is compromised, i.e. the HPA axis and the accompanying adrenal glands, pituitary gland, pineal gland, and hormones.

The end result of consistent use of sleeping aids is thus a higher production of cortisol, a disrupted sleep pattern, and eventually, adrenal fatigue. More often than not, a stronger sleeping aid is prescribed, and the domino effect comes into play once more.

Conventional Medicine’s Approach to the Problem of Common Sleep Aids

Manufacturers are now recommending that women take half of the dose typically prescribed for men. Sixty-eight percent of all reported ER cases were women. However, men are also affected and the FDA has recommended that their dosage also be lowered. Negative reactions can be drowsiness during the daytime, dizziness, and hallucinations as well as sleep-walking and adverse reactions while driving. If you plan to take any medication containing zolpidem it’s recommended that you consult with a physician and monitor your usage often.

A Holistic Approach to the Problems Linked with Common Sleep Aids

The first point of order to is to identify the cause of the problem. This means finding the reason why your body’s NEM stress response has kicked in the way it has. Once the problem is identified, you need to do something about it so that the stress is removed and the HPA axis’ normal functionality can ensue, thereby normalizing hormone production.
Additionally, the adrenal glands that are in a state of fatigue, need to recuperate. This includes adequate sleep! In fact, most sufferers of advanced adrenal fatigue commonly complaint of inablity to fall asleep as well as frequent awakening during the night. Without a good night’s sleep, the body’s energy output during the day falls, resulting in a vicious cycle of vitality loss.

A few natural common sleep aids to consider:

St. John’s Wort

One of the leading reasons for insomnia is depression. The chemicals adhyperforin and hyperforin found in St. John’s Wort help with mood swings and to alleviate depression.

Essential Oils

A combination of bergamot oil, frankincense, lavender oil, and mandarin is a wonderful sleep inducing blend when used during aromatherapy.


Research indicates that calcium helps in the creation of melatonin, the body’s natural sleeping aid. Grandmother was correct in prescribing a glass of warm milk for a good night’s rest!


Magnesium calms the brain and induces a higher rate of relaxation. It is an important component for optimal adrenal function.


Tryptophan instead of common sleep aidsTryptophan, an amino acid that puts the state in a relaxed state, is very similar to melatonin and serotonin. It is to be found in foods such as turkey (why you are tired after Thanksgiving dinner), and carbohydrates such as quinoa, brown rice, and corn.

Bear in mind that not all sleep aids are for everyone. Those in advanced AFS can develop paradoxical reactions can actually get worse with certain sleep-aids. Some trail and error is often necessary even in the best of hands.


The use of Common Sleep Aids are linked with more frequent ER visits

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
searchpinterest linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram