Maybe you have had trouble sleeping for a long time—years even. Or maybe all the stresses of 2020 have made it difficult for you to get a good night’s rest as you worry about the public health emergency and all of the other events this year has featured. Or maybe you have intermittent problems getting to sleep, going long periods of time with no issues only to find that you suddenly have trouble for a week or a month or even longer.
On the one hand, sleep seems like it ought to be easy. You lie down, adjust your blankets and pillow, turn off the light, close your eyes, and just go to sleep. But of course it is seldom that easy. The worries of the day, regrets about the past, concerns about the future, an illness or persistent pain in the body, sleep apnea (or a partner who snores due to untreated sleep apnea), the rumble of traffic or the scream of emergency vehicle sirens or the cry of a train whistle in the night, a child who has a nightmare, a pet who hogs the bed…
Our list could go on and on. And then on some more.
And that goes a long way toward explaining why around 25 percent of Americans suffer from insomnia to one degree or another every year.
Some Things to Try for Insomnia
In many cases, making some changes to your evening routine can go a long way toward warding off insomnia. The first step might be setting a consistent bedtime and waking time. A regular time set aside for sleeping can help your body and mind recognize that it is time to shut down for the night.
You will want to make sure you are not consuming caffeine late in the evening (for some people, caffeine should be avoided any time after noon). Ideally, you would put all of your screens—your laptop, your phone, your tablet, and even your TV—to sleep well before your bedtime. And you would establish some restful before-bed habits. These might include taking a warm bath, listening to some relaxing music, reading an enjoyable book, sipping some herbal tea or warm milk, or writing in your journal.
Making sure your sleep space is cool and uncluttered can also be very helpful. You might think that because your eyes are closed when you sleep, a cluttered room doesn’t really matter. But a clean, cool, comfortable room sets the right conditions for restful sleep. And ideally, your sleep space will be reserved for sleeping—rather than as a place to watch TV, scroll through social media, or have a late night snack (who needs crumbs in the bed anyway?).
Still, you could do all of the things we have mentioned and still struggle to get to sleep at night. It might be time to talk with your doctor, who may decide a sleep aid like Ambien (generic name: zolpidem) is the way to go.
Ambien: The Pros & the Cons
Ambien can seem like a miracle to a person who has been struggling with chronic insomnia. The drug is very effective at helping a person sleep through the night—no matter how difficult that has been in the past. That much needed rest can seem—in fact, can be—life-changing.
However, Ambien is not a long-term solution. It is, instead, a way to get your sleep cycle reset in the short term so that you can try more natural means (like those we talked about above) to maintain a healthy approach to getting the rest you need. As a result, your doctor is likely to prescribe a small amount of the drug for a brief period of time.
So far, so good. But some people find it difficult to stick to the dosing instructions or the limited time period of their prescriptions. Often, this is due to the hypnotic high they experience after taking Ambien—an experience that can be brought on by ingesting higher doses or taking it in combination with other drugs. It is a short step from there to the development of a substance use disorder centered on Ambien.
The Irony of Ambien Addiction
If you are struggling with Ambien, any attempt to stop taking the drug is likely to be followed by severe withdrawal symptoms. Ironically, one of those symptoms is insomnia—the very problem you were taking the drug to solve in the first place.
Other potential withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Intense cravings for the drug that can be difficult to resist
- Changes in mood including agitation, irritability, sadness, and nervousness
- Stomach discomfort, cramps, nausea, and/or vomiting
- Increased heart or breathing rate, sweating, flushing, panic attacks, tremors, and/or delirium
- In severe cases, convulsions or seizures resulting from the sudden increase in brain activity once the drug is no longer impacting brain function
Because of these dangers, it is important that you do not attempt to quit taking Ambien “cold turkey.” Instead, the ideal approach would be to taper off the drug in a medically supervised environment. This period of detoxification might best be followed by rehab in a residential facility or via a robust outpatient program. Treatment will include therapy, which will teach you strategies for staying off Ambien going forward.
The Aviary Recovery Center Never Sleeps on Addiction
If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, you can count on The Aviary Recovery Center to be ready and able to help. Our personalized approach to treatment is grounded in compassion and expertise. We understand every person’s situation is different, and we are committed to designing a treatment specific to your needs—including addressing any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be in play. If you need help, you can rest assured you can find it at The Aviary Recovery Center.