The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 878: Solving the Sleep Dilemma

If you rely on sleeping pills to get the shut-eye you need, you may be putting yourself at risk for premature death. How can you solve this sleep dilemma?
Lawrence Kline, DO, medical director of Viterbi Family Sleep Center, Scripps

Most of us are familiar with a number of prescription sleeping pills such as Ambien, Lunesta or Sonata. The unpleasantness of tossing and turning night after night explains why so many people rely on these medications to get to sleep. But research suggests that the long-term side effects of such drugs could be serious, even deadly.

What Are the Hazards of Sleeping Pills?

Learn about the research linking prescription sleep aids to premature death. If sleeping pills are risky and sleep deprivation is also dangerous for our health, what can we do to get a good night’s sleep? Our guests offer practical suggestions for the sleep dilemma.

This Week’s Guests:

Lawrence Kline, DO, is medical director of the Viterbi Family Sleep Center at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, California. His article was published in BMJ Open on Feb. 27, 2012. The photo is of Dr. Kline.

Matthew Edlund, MD, is an expert on rest, sleep, performance and public health, and the author of The Power of Rest, The Body Clock Advantage, and Designed to Last. His previous articles can be found at and He is the Director of the Gulf Coast Sleep Institute Center for Circadian Medicine, Sarasota, Florida.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for four weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

Buy the CD

Download the mp3

Rate this article
4.3- 3 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 17 comments
Add your comment

I wake up every hour or 2 all night long. I take blood pressure drugs 2 times a day 8 am and 8 pm. My doctor tells me that seniors don’t sleep well and it is normal.

Waking up every hour or two is not normal. Ask your doctor you could shift your evening pill so that you take it a little earlier and have more time before bed to pee. Also, you may be interested in the discussion of a home remedy with absolutely no research to support it, but also very low risk:

I have not listened to the program yet, but will.
I heard your program on sleep medications and bladder cancer (causing it or causing recurrence) – how can I access that? I have had 2 surgeries for bladder cancer (2 yrs cancer free!). Please advise.
I’ve had bouts of insomnia for about 8 yrs, which coincided with peri-menopause into menopause. Hot flashes are a problem in the early morning as well as waking up too early, which has been the main problem in recent months. Sleep deprivation leads to worrying more about how to make it through the next day; will I get to sleep tonight; what if I don’t & I have that important meeting?? It’s a vicious cycle. I felt myself feeling v anxious thinking “how am I going to make it through the day”? I sometimes must drive at night and thank God I have not had a blackout at the wheel (to my knowledge), but have had 2 that I do know of, since it happened while playing a gig (I’m a musician). Ambien causes anxiety attacks. Sometimes I take OTC medicine but don’t like to take drugs. I had 2 sleep labs & sometimes have apnea, but not bad enough to warrant a cpap machine. I have had to curtail activities for other reasons also, but insomnia makes everything difficult to deal with. My husband is earning his sainthood dealing with this also!
My sympathies to all who have chronic insomnia or even just a few bad nights.
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Listen to this program, and also this one:
Both discuss the same research linking sleeping pills to health problems.

I enjoyed the program immensely. Any one who preaches to stay away from drugs in todays world is going in the right direction in my opinion.
As a follow up to this program, information on how to accomplish tasks as being in daylight for two hours after waking, warm baths before bedtime and exercise when suffering from fibromyalgia or dysautonomia would be helpful.

Magnesium for falling asleep or staying asleep helps alot. I purchase the Magnesium Oxide capsules (capsules work faster than tablets). They are 400mg a capsule. 1 to 2 capsules (up to 800mg) of magnesium oxide before bedtime help your body relax and stay asleep. Your body excretes any excess magnesium. The only people who shouldn’t take magnesium are those suffering from renal failure. It’s also good to get magnesium that doesn’t have the filler magnesium stearate listed in the ingredients. I also have two friends whom this past month have had great success with magnesium capsules. One friend used them for severe anxiety (she is prescribed anxiety meds by her psychiatrist all her life) and had better success with the magnesium than the prescription drugs. The other friend just has severe mood disorders, she was noticeably less irritable and cranky (some of her mood swings I think come from her alcoholism and diabetes).

Without a doubt, there needs to be some longitudinal studies regarding these types of medications and all others that haven’t had proper research done yet. But what better way to collect data than to release it to the public and let the willing be the guinea pigs, I suppose. We will have some interesting years ahead of us once some of these medications have aged…

About one hour before bedtime I turn off the overhead lights and turn on pink night lights. This creates a low wavelength light environment, similar to sundown or what one might experience with dying embers of a campfire. I warm a bath towel in the dryer, then fold and place it under the covers at the foot of the bed. Then it is a warm bath and soothing music with the volume turned down very low.
Finally, just before going to bed I use a mouth guard to help with jaw grinding, a Ziezta Sleep Strip that helps me keep my mouth closed, put on my C-PAP nose pillow, and its off to dreamland!

I have heard programs and read many books with this same information. What frustrates me is that I have gone through 2 programs where I did the insomnia “cure” through journaling, sleep deprivation, and relaxations exercises and just flunked out because I was too sleep deprived to work! I have tried to not take clonazepam and have been awake all night long for 4 nights straight. That made me downright dangerous in my job as an RN.
I started taking sleeping pills because I could not sleep; I could not go to sleep and when I did, I woke up a couple hours later, wide awake. My mind simply will not shut down. I think instead of rehashing the same old information over and over, as this show did, why not do some real research as to why some of us have our minds going full speed ahead 24/7?
It is not something I can control at all, not with all the relaxation techniques, herbs, supplements, and everything else reasonable to bizarre that I have tried over the years to sleep. Sorry, this does not cut it. Some people need more answers. I am a happy, well adjusted person otherwise.

Excellent program. Now I would like to see a program about getting off tranquilizers. I have had insomnia all my life (I’m now 70) and I had a series of rapid atrial fibrillation episodes during which I was hospitalized again and again. I take 1 mg sublingual Ativan nightly – ten years later it doesn’t help me sleep any more. But if I don’t take it, | have anxiety issues the next day. Are there answers for my problem. Thank you.

This was an excellent programme with two high-quality guests.
Thank you.

Great program about sleep issues. Suggestion: if you find yourself lying awake ruminating, repeat the following sentence until you fall asleep. “I am not a cow, I am not a cow, I am not a cow.”

I listened to your show on the dangers of taking sleeping pills. However, what I wanted to know is HOW , taking them shortens ones life, I mean, short of falling. Thank you!
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: No one knows for sure, but there’s a bit more info here:

Great show. I wanted to add that there is a freeware application for your computer (I’m not sure about mobile devices) that adjusts the light temperature (i.e. color) at sunset and sunrise based on your IP address. Here is the link:
I’ve used it for about 3 months now and I like the benefits I’ve seen so far. And I don’t have to wear blue-light filtering glasses :)

My friend uses seroqual to sleep what can you tell me about this drugs side effects thank you
Peoples Pharmacy response: Seroquel has a lot of possible side effects, including some very serious ones. It makes many people feel sleepy, which might explain why your friend is taking it for this. It is not approved as a sleeping pill, only to treat major mental illness.
Other side effects include dry mouth, dizziness, fainting (from low blood pressure or heart rhythm disturbances), constipation, weight gain, trouble speaking, blurred vision, tremor, weakness, stomachache, nausea, headache, fatigue and inability to regulate body temperature. There are also more serious problems (although fainting and being unable to regulate body temperature are serious). They include severe allergic reactions including the skin disorder known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome, movement disorders which might be irreversible, seizures and a very frightening and potentially life-threatening reaction called neuroleptic malignant syndrome.
In short, this medication is much too dangerous to use for a simple sleep problem. Its risks would be acceptable only in treating something like schizophrenia that has not responded to other treatments.

My sleep problems started in my early 70’s, when too much time was spent worrying about what the next day would bring. My doctor’s only answer was pills, saying that the risks of not enough sleep outweighed the risks of the pills. Well I didn’t believe him, and my alternative efforts were successful, and all listed on today’s show, thank you. Dr. Kline was a great guest. When guests are passionate, they often speak too quickly for anyone not versed in the topic to follow, but Dr. Kline speaks in a way that everyone and anyone can understand.

Dr mathew Edlund is well known here in SARASOTA Florida. NOT SARATOGA Florida. Can you please make a correction about this thank you.

I would like to know how I can sleep deeply. I have dreams all night long and I wake up tired in the morning. They are not nightmares but dreams.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^