From Ronald Hoffman, MD
Earlier this month, I covered some of the strong links between sleep and health—particularly the effects of getting too little sleep. This week, I’m providing some more sleep facts and solutions in support of Sleep Awareness Month.
1) Prescription meds don’t cut it for long-term management of sleep problems. An estimated nine million adults in the U.S. alone say they take prescription meds to try and get a good night’s sleep. But a new study showed that there was no difference in sleep quality or duration between women who took prescription drugs for 1-2 years versus those who didn’t.
Sleep medications can induce sleep, but fail to replicate natural “sleep architecture” which is necessary to confer brain and body benefits.
Moreover, a 2022 study that followed older adults who used sleep medications for about six years found they had a 48% greater risk of dementia, compared to those who didn’t use them.
As for over-the-counter sleep aids, they, too, were found to accelerate cognitive decline with chronic use. Many of these remedies employ anticholinergic antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to make you drowsy; they may gradually deplete acetylcholine which is an essential brain neurotransmitter.
2) Ever wonder why you’re so likely to nod off while driving? You may be sleep deprived. But even when I think I’ve gotten adequate sleep, sometimes I need to fight off drowsiness while driving by chewing gum, pinching my cheeks, or doing alternate nostril breathing.
Now there’s an explanation: The natural vibrations in cars appear to make people sleepier. New parents invoke this principle when they strap babies into the car seat and drive them repeatedly around the neighborhood to lull them into slumber.
Research using simulators shows that vibrations of a certain frequency induce drowsiness in experimental subjects within 15 minutes; by 60 minutes, alertness and reflexes are profoundly impaired.
Hopefully, automotive engineers will harness these findings to rejigger cars of the future with “good vibrations” that promote wakefulness!