Should you consider sleep aids?

About 70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder, according to the American Sleep Association. You might be quick to look for a medication when you have a health problem, including if you’re having trouble sleeping. But Dr. Darius Loghmanee, a pediatric sleep specialist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., says you should first know the underlying issues causing your sleep problem.

Those without prescription medications or an official diagnosis may turn to natural herb supplements and over-the-counter sleep aids, such as the popular melatonin. Dr. Loghmanee says these kinds of sleep aids are typically safe but aren’t FDA regulated.

“Melatonin and other over-the-counter sleep aids are usually safe, but if any sleep aid is needed for more than a few weeks, you should enlist the support of a health care provider in seeking out a long-term solution,” he says.

You might try to get a full night’s sleep every night, but sometimes life can keep you up.

“In most cases, people with difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep look to sleep aids without fully understanding the issues driving their sleep problems,” Dr. Loghmanee says. “Sleep aids may work at first, but gradually, people need higher doses or stronger medications. These medications are addressing the symptom without addressing the underlying problem.”

Dr. Loghmanee also notes not addressing these long-term sleeping problems are linked to severe health issues such as cardiovascular illnesses and an increased risk of stroke and obesity, among others.

To gauge whether your sleep issues may be a result of an underlying problem, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How long have you been having sleep problems?
  • Have you had any lifestyle changes around the time you started having sleep problems?
  • Are there nights when you sleep better? What is different about those nights?
  • Do you keep a regular sleep and wake pattern between weekdays and weekends, or do they shift?
  • Do you spend a lot of time in bed while awake, such as watching videos, using your phone or working?

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