Students find relief through sleeping pills

By Nicoletta Sabella
May 4, 2006

Shane Evans

“I hope I’ll be able to sleep again,” Amanda Finnegan, sophomore English and communication major said. Finnegan described her experience of being on prescription sleeping pills as “terrible.” Her neurologist had prescribed Lunesta because Finnegan had troubles sleeping from temporomandibular joint syndrome and also her roommate’s snoring.

She said her doctor told her it was the safest drug on the market and had the least risk for dependency, without telling her of the other side effects.

The use of prescription sleeping pills among people between the ages 20 to 44 has doubled from the year 2000 to 2004 according to the McKinley Health Center.

Soon after taking Lunesta, Finnegan started having “more nightmares than ever before.” She would hallucinate and see things in the middle of the night and she spoke in her sleep. After being on Lunesta for a little over a month, Finnegan’s mother warned her to stop taking the pills from reports she read of the side effects.

Sleep-deprived Americans are consuming sleeping pills more now than ever before. While patients, including students with experience, avoid them for fear of side effects; professionals contradictorily feel they don’t pose a threat.

According the New York Times, there were over 42 million sleep aids prescribed in 2005, which was up nearly 60 percent from the year 2000. And according to the McKinley Health Center of the University of Illinois, two thirds of college students surveyed had occasional sleep disturbances and only 11 percent of those surveyed felt they had quality sleep habits.

“I knew I had to take one just to sleep,” Finnegan said.

Finnegan began to see more side effects and signs of dependency of the drug once she got off of it. She would not only have nightmares and hallucinations, but was now an insomniac and would have night sweats. She thinks that more college students are taking over-the-counter forms of sleeping aids and doctors are more willing to prescribe sleeping pills too.

Lunesta’s website states that some side effects include changes in behavior and thinking. Some of these effects are more outgoing or aggressive behavior than normal, confusion, strange behavior, agitation, hallucinations, worsening of depression and suicidal thoughts, to name a few. However, the site also mentions that these side effects are not common.

Some experts feel that because of the hectic environment that people are surrounded by day in and day out, over stimulation and sleep substitution cases of insomnia occur.

“Television is a big culprit, Internet is a big culprit. I just think that a lot more stimulus is going on in their environment and it’s keeping them up at night,” Dr. Pamela Tedesco, a doctor of osteopathy, said. Tedesco thinks that people have a lot of stressors that keep them up at night, preventing them from getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep. For example, Tedesco said many people work many hours at work and come home to maintain a household, then stay up to work on a project, which does not leave enough time for a full night’s rest, therefore causing insomnia. Tedesco feels that environmental school stressors like staying up with friends or finishing schoolwork late at night cause students to have sleep disorders as well. Sleep aids are helpful mentally and physically she said.

“I think sleep deprivation is a problem that needs to be addressed,” Tedesco said.

Kristen Catalanotto, a senior English and communication major, tried to avoid what Finnegan went through. Catalanotto started taking Tylenol PM, a popular over-the-counter sleeping aid, because of trouble sleeping from losing her home to hurricane Katrina. “That was actually the only thing that I was looking forward to during the day, sleeping,” Catalanotto said.

Shortly after, she made a conscious decision to stop taking them for fear of getting addicted. Catalanotto said, “I figured that I would rather toss and turn for a few days than get addicted to them and spend years on them.” She said that once she took her mind off of the hurricane, she kept busy and found falling asleep easy.

Even though some patients are skeptical, some doctors still think sleeping aids are helpful.

Dr. Burton Marks, a doctor of osteopathy at University Services Sleep Center in West Chester, Pa., said, “There are people with sleep problems because of lifestyle issues and they shouldn’t be taking the medicines, they should be changing their lifestyles.”

Marks thinks that taking the pills are not the problem, but who takes them is. He said that those who are on sleeping pills should be reliable and make sure that they have the right amount of time to commit to sleep. Marks mentioned that people with prior issues of dependent personalities or problems with sleepwalking should stay away from them altogether.

In Marks’ personal experience at the sleep center, he has not seen a rise in college students request for sleep aids, but thinks that it may be a problem because, “they don’t give themselves enough opportunity to sleep.”

“Lunesta is very safe, it’s not habit forming and it was the first sleeping medicine that was approved for long-term use, it’s been studied extensively and it’s very safe,” Marks said. He mentioned that all new sleep aids are safer than the older medicines.

Registered nurse Cindy Charles felt that the prescription of sleeping aids is more acceptable and more doctors are freely doing it.

“I don’t think it’s really good for people to get dependant on sleeping pills. But sometimes you need them. Sleep deprivation is sometimes worse than being dependant on the pills,” Charles said. She also said that sleeping aids were okay for short term usage and that a good alternative would be to get more exercise during the day, eating healthy and avoiding caffeine.

The Davis Drug Guide, a text that nurses refer to for drug facts, mentioned side effects of Ambien, a popular sleeping drug. The side effects include sleep gorging, sleep driving, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, physical and psychological dependence and tolerance.

Finnegan regrets taking the pills to begin with and has not told her doctor about her incidents and worries she would be prescribed something else. “I still don’t sleep the same, I only get a couple hours each night,” she said.

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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Nicoletta Sabella

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