Posted on Oct 08, 2021, 5 p.m.
A good night’s sleep is one of the most important ways we can take care of our bodies. Starting the day off feeling refreshed can make all the difference in the world when navigating the challenges of life. Since sleep is so important, people are willing to use whatever method necessary to catch some z’s, including taking a powerful class of sedative drugs known as benzodiazepines (or benzos for short). But while benzos are used by many people as a sleep aid, it turns out that benzo use is something you can actually lose sleep over.
Benzos and Sleep
It is estimated that 30 percent of the general population suffers from interrupted sleep, with 10 percent suffering from insomnia. Since 1960, benzos have been approved by the FDA to treat a variety of conditions from anxiety to insomnia. Familiar brand names such as Ativan and Xanax represent a class of long-acting benzos prescribed for anxiety. But there are also short-acting benzos such as estazolam, a popular drug of choice specifically intended to help people who have trouble sleeping.
Benzos like estazolam are prescribed to act as a sedative in order to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and to combat interrupted sleep. Depending on the severity of insomnia, long-acting benzos are sometimes prescribed instead of short-acting ones.
Whether short- or long-acting, the goal of benzo use is to increase sleep efficiency. And for people who spend hours tossing and turning or waking up every few minutes, getting a good night’s rest sounds like a dream come true.
Clearer Warnings, Greater Risk
Sadly, that dream quickly becomes a nightmare when frequent and long-term benzo use takes its toll. One study shows that the difference between using long- and short-acting benzos for insomnia is a trade-off between good sleep at night and good afternoon naps. The study does admit that other publications have a different way of describing benzo use as an aid to afternoon naps, such as calling it “drowsiness.”
In fact, the issue of side effects is much more helpful to the latest official information about benzos use. In the last year, the FDA announced a boxed warning requirement for all benzos. The goal was to communicate the warnings of the risks associated with frequent use more clearly to the consumer. Additionally, this warning is meant to communicate the greater risk associated with benzo use when mixed with other substances such as alcohol.
But perhaps the greatest risk acknowledged by the FDA in this new warning is the following:
“Physical dependence can occur when benzodiazepines are taken steadily for several days to weeks, even as prescribed. Stopping them abruptly or reducing the dosage too quickly can result in withdrawal reactions, including seizures, which can be life-threatening.”
When we think about this warning in light of the prescribed use of benzos for sleep, it translates to a warning that this sleep aid can quickly become an addiction. Once a person has become addicted, the symptoms that required benzos in the first place now become withdrawal reactions. At this point, it no longer matters whether the medication is truly promoting better sleep. The dependency is too strong, and the risk of quitting without professional help is too great.
In fact, this dependency will result in building a tolerance to the benzo, making it less and less effective over time. This means you’ll need more of the drug to get the same sleep as before, which leads to greater dependency and eventually diminishing returns leading to poor sleep.
You’re stuck—and once again, you’re tired.
Sleeping Deeper, Naturally
This is just one reason why the warnings surrounding benzo use must be apparent, and one reason why a benzo prescription is typically only meant for short-term use. But with the risk of dependence even when following all prescription instructions, the safest and best path to a good night’s sleep is generally a natural one, not manufactured.
Natural does not mean we should simply substitute pharmaceuticals for dietary supplements. In some cases, the potential side effects are the same between both. Rather, self-awareness and good observations can go a long way in promoting deep, natural sleep. These include things like assessing your travel and work schedule, eating patterns, overstimulation from electronics, and of course, keeping stress in check.
It turns out that we lose more sleep than we gain with ongoing benzo use. And while it may prove to be a quick fix in some cases for short-term use, the risks of addiction and adverse sleeping habits ultimately make it unhelpful in our pursuit of precious sleep.
If you have become dependent on benzos, it is vital to take the FDA’s warning seriously when it comes to reducing or abruptly ending dosage. And if your current lifestyle is causing you to lose sleep, consider the natural options that don’t need to have warning labels attached.
This article was written by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
Content may be edited for style and length.
Materials provided by:
Vista Pines Health. (n.d.). What Causes Insomnia? Retrieved from https://vistapineshealth.com/treatment/insomnia/
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020, October 2). FDA Requiring Boxed Warning Updated to Improve Safe Use of Benzodiazepine Drug Class. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-requiring-boxed-warning-updated-improve-safe-use-benzodiazepine-drug-class
Delphi Health Group. (n.d). How do Benzodiazepines Affect a Developing Brain? Retrieved from https://delphihealthgroup.com/dual-diagnosis-treatment/anxiety/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). What are the Differences Between Benzodiazepines? Retrieved from https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/differences/
American Family Physician Journal. (2007, August 15). Treatment Options for Insomnia. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0815/p517.html
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Guide to Benzodiazepine Addiction and Treatment. Retrieved from https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/
World Health (2021, September 16). The Danger of Ignoring Stress. Retrieved from https://www.worldhealth.net/news/danger-ignoring-stress/