Ever since he retired, Edward feared the dark. He knew that when the time at night came for him to turn off the lights and go to bed, he would lie awake for hours, his eyes open wide, his thoughts racing around his head. Desperate for a good night’s sleep, Edward, like many Americans, turned to a doctor who prescribed him a medication called Sonata to treat his insomnia.
At first, the half milligram made him feel better. But, because his body had become accustomed to taking a daily dose of Sonata for the past several months, his doctor upped his prescription to one milligram, and then two. Confident that he had regained his ability to sleep, Edward stopped taking Sonata. That’s when he realized his body had turned on him. Without Sonata, he was nervous, dizzy, and, to make matters worse, he couldn’t sleep again at night. Edward was caught in a vicious cycle, and he wanted off.
In addition to being addictive, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded all of those sleeping pills that Edward routinely had taken may have been more dangerous than he and others like him had realized. Yet, millions of Americans ignore the warnings and continue to rely on Sonata and other “z-drugs” including Ambien and Lunesta in the hope they’ll get enough shut-eye.
The FDA has singled out Sonata, in particular, pointing to serious injuries that have occurred to people after they’ve taken the sedative including sleepwalking, sleep driving and other activities while not fully awake. It has become such a problem that Sonata is now required to carry a notice that warns of the potential complex sleep behaviors associated with the medication. Of the 66 cases that researchers identified over the past 26 years, dangerous and sometimes fatal injuries resulted from:
Just as alarming, the research found that patients usually did not remember any of these events. What they should not forget is that all of these dangerous incidents happened because they turned to sleeping pills when they couldn’t get a good night’s rest.
As many as 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders or deprivation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An estimated four percent of the adult population in the United States – or roughly 10 million people — take sleep medications, at any given time, to help correct their condition.
Although short-term use of Sonata and other prescription sleeping pills may be helpful, some medical experts believe the medications do little to fix insomnia. And most agree too many people are becoming dependent on them, with little or no attention directed toward their dangerous side effects.
Sleeping pills are a lot like alcohol in that they are sedatives. They cause confusion and drowsiness that often lead to falls. Beginning in the 1990s, these z-drugs – zolpidem, zopliclone, zaleplon in the generic versions – were originally manufactured as safer, less-addictive alternatives to benzodiazepines. But shortly thereafter, patients who took Sonata and the other z-drugs began to run into some of the same issues that benzodiazepines had contributed to, such as heightened tolerance levels, dependence, and sleepiness.
When taking Sonata at night to help fall asleep, the intoxicating effects of the medication may still be evident in the morning. Women are most vulnerable to this next-day grogginess because they metabolize Sonata more slowly than men. But it’s not just drowsiness from taking Sonata the night before that may become a problem in the morning. Some individuals will not be able to focus long enough even to read a newspaper article or follow an email chain.
Too much of the drug – or an overdose of Sonata – may lead to symptoms beyond confusion and fatigue. These include:
It is important to remember that Sonata and other z-drugs are not without flaws. They may provide very little relief or none at all. Any individual who is still taking Sonata for periods longer than a month to get to sleep at night should seriously consider alerting a medical professional to assist with weaning off the medication to prevent any discomforting withdrawal symptoms and unnecessary health complications.
Sonata, the brand name for zaleplon, is a sedative-hypnotic used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. It is not a benzodiazepine; however, because chemical properties of the drug act on many of the same brain pathways and neurotransmitters, the medication can not only produce similar side effects but become habit-forming even when prescribed by a physician. Sonata is one of the fastest-acting sedative-hypnotics on the market. What makes Sonata so popular is that an individual who takes the medication should begin to feel the sleep-inducing effects within 30 minutes.
Sonata acts on gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors in the brain to slow down messages carried by neurotransmitters within the central nervous system. These neurotransmitters tend to saturate many of the brain function areas that are capable of producing sedative states. When the nervous system gets accustomed to this dampening, more Sonata is needed to produce the same earlier effects. When this level of Sonata is no longer achieved by either a reduction in use or an abrupt stoppage, the body reacts as if GABA is still present. This period of struggle to adapt without Sonata is called withdrawal. Alcoholics and drug addicts who use Sonata are more vulnerable to these discomforting symptoms.
Any individual who relies on Sonata to fall asleep can become dependent on the medication. A reduction in the dosage of Sonata or stopping entirely after months of use can produce withdrawal symptoms, which may include:
An individual’s tolerance level, genetics, frequency of use and dosage are factors to consider when developing a timeline for withdrawal. It’s imperative that individuals who wish to wean off their Sonata intake recognize various stages of the withdrawal process to prevent what could become a dangerous health complication. To get a better understanding of what to expect during the withdrawal process, a general timeline might include:
Because Sonata has a short half-life, withdrawal symptoms in the form of shakiness and sweating may develop within four hours of taking the last pill.
Difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach pains, nausea, restlessness, dizziness and mood swings may continue for up to a week.
After a week, most of the physical withdrawal symptoms will have subsided; however, depression and anxiety may be problematic for the next couple of weeks.
Within a month of the last Sonata pill, both physical and mental side effects should have been eliminated. The key from now on is not to return to use.
Because Sonata can interact with certain medications, consult a doctor if you or a family member notices a change in behavior combined with physical side effects. Do not stop taking Sonata without contacting a medical professional, who can provide assistance to taper off the medication gradually.
Sonata should not be taken for any longer than 10 days. If you have become both mentally and physically dependent on Sonata beyond this point, detoxification under the supervision of a medical professional is worth seriously considering. You are especially at risk if you are combining Sonata with street drugs and alcohol.
Detox traditionally takes place at a hospital or residential treatment facility, where a physician can manage your Sonata dosage to gradually taper you off the drug and avoid any uncomfortable side effects from withdrawal. During this process, certified healthcare staff onsite will also monitor your vitals to prevent any potential health complications and provide the emotional support to get you through this period.
If you are abusing drugs and alcohol along with Sonata, detox is a highly recommended first step toward recovery.
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Because you had been relying on Sonata to fall asleep for a longer period than the medication is intended, your most significant risk after detox is a return to sleeping pills. An extended stay at a residential treatment center can help you break that mental dependence by providing behavioral therapies to help you to get the rest you need without Sonata or other dangerous sleep aids. Here, you will be fitted with a personalized recovery plan that will include group therapy, one-on-one counseling, educational lectures, and workshops.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-requires-stronger-warnings-about-rare-serious-incidents-related-certain-prescription-insomnia
Prescription Sleep Aid Use Among Adults: United States, 2005–2010. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 2013. Retrieved May 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db127.htm#summary
Are Sleeping Pills Addictive?. THE NEW YORK TIMES JULY 16, 2010. Retrieved May 2019. from https://consults.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/are-sleeping-pills-addictive/
Pharmacological Treatment of Insomnia. Pharmacy and Therapeautics. November 2015. Retrived May 2019. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4634348/
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a601251.html
American Family Physician. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0815/p517.html
Kaiser Permanente. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0815/p517.html
National Institute of Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants