The People's Perspective on Medicine

Sleeping Pill Problems Prompt Reader to Quit

The sleeping pill Lunesta (eszopiclone) has had very appealing TV commercials. The luna moth flits through the window peacefully. What about side effects?
Insomnia sleep

People are caught in a terrible double bind. On the one hand they are told that chronic sleep deprivation can have negative health consequences including an increased risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes and cognitive impairment. On the other hand, sleeping pill problems are not trivial complications as this reader writes.

Q. I’ve taken Lunesta for years to help me sleep. Recently, I find my mind is clouded the next day, so I would like to stop. A specialist in insomnia told me I do not have insomnia, but I had already gotten hooked on Lunesta. What is the best way to quit?

I stopped cold turkey three days ago, but I just can’t get to sleep. It takes hours and I’m very sleepy all the next day. If tapering off is better, how would you do it?

A. You are not the only person who has found that taking eszopiclone (Lunesta) to get to sleep at night results in impairment the next day. A randomized, placebo-controlled study of 91 individuals found that people who took 3 mg of eszopiclone at bedtime did not perform as well on tracking tests the following day (Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, Oct., 2012). It can be difficult for individuals to assess their own impairment in such situations.

Partly in response to the study, the FDA has recommended that starting doses of Lunesta be lowered to 1 mg. This may work to your advantage by making it easier for you to taper your dose gradually. It can take some time for rebound insomnia to fade.

Stories from Readers:

J.B. shared this sleeping pill experience:

“During my mother’s illness I became very stressed and had many nights of insomnia where skullcap, hot baths, etc. weren’t helping. I was given some samples of Lunesta to try. I woke up the three times I took it with a horrible metallic taste in my mouth, felt very groggy and had brain fog until I had some black tea, which helped clear my head.

“I did not feel rested. Since then I take daily adaptogenic herbs (Siberian ginseng…Holy Basil) and my sleep has improved!

We would bet that an “unpleasant metallic taste” is not the sort of side effect most health professionals would mention. It seems so trivial. Yet if it happened to you we suspect you would not be pleased. Interestingly, it is one of the most common complications of this sleeping pill. In clinical trials the 2 mg dose of Lunesta was linked to “unpleasant taste” in 17 percent of subjects. The 3 mg dose of Lunesta triggered this reaction in 34 percent of subjects.

Side Effects of Eszopiclone:

  • unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • headache
  • next-day drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • next-day memory impairment (anterograde amnesia)
  • indigestion
  • diarrhea

For more information on the pros and cons of Lunesta and other sleeping pills, as well as alternative approaches to overcoming insomnia, we are sending you our Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. Others can download this recently revised 20-page guide at this link.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

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I started taking 1 magnesium citrate about 1/2 hour before going to bed. It has really helped. BUT the biggest help was that I now have a lower blood pressure in the morning. I had even made my first ER trip over my BP going very high recently. I keep careful records. No question that the magnesium is making a significant difference. ~

I want to thank you for your sleeping guide. I have had chronic insomnia my entire life. My mind would never shut down. I have been on ambian and even OTC when I didn’t have insurance. When the generic ambian came out sleep problems got worse. I decided to fight insomnia once and for all. I had tried previous attempts to use herbs to help me sleep but always got frustrated and stopped. After reading your guide and seeing all the bad side effects of ambian and OTC medicines, I knew this time had to be different. So I switched to a regiment that follows:
6:00 pm I take magnesium and melatonin
6:30 I brew chamomile tea and drink that slowly
7:00 all electronics go off and I take my valerian extract.

I climb into bed to read and usually within 20-25 mins I am out for the night. I also invested in a pair of sleep/eye mask to help darkening the room.

For the fist time in 46 years I have fallen asleep without ambian or OTC products. I couldnt believe it was possible!! Thank you for giving me my life back and the fear of no sleep–is no more.

I live in a condo that is now 40 years old. I bought it 30 years ago, am retired, can’t afford to sell and move. I share a bedroom wall with a couple who cause vibrations in my bed every night enjoying them selves. I believe they are using some kind of drug for excitement. The only way I can get any sleep is with Lunesta. I have tried the herbs with no luck.

When I don’t use Lunesta, I get only about four hours rest. I don’t want to use this drug. I have arthritis and pain also, so getting sleep is so important. I have tried the herb OTC drugs with no luck. Any ideas. I have complained to the HOA and Board, but they won’t do anything. They are renters and I own. I have never complained. I can not prove this bed vibration without paying almost 2K, money I don’t have. I think the HOA attorney is advising to not do anything due to skin color. I have no problem with these neighbors, except their nightly actions causing me no sleep. My bed is across the room and theirs is next to the wall we share, yet they lied to the board as to its location. I talked to an acoustical engineer and there is nothing I can do with out that landlord’s help, and she is doing nothing.

So, I need something to help me sleep that won’t affect my mind. Any recommendations? Thank you.

My sleep problem is apparently due to statin use, specifically, Livalo. I developed central sleep apnea while on Livalo. I have been off Livalo for a year and a half but still have central sleep apnea and must use a Cpap machine at night. This may be an irreversible side effect of statins. Is there a nutitional or vitamin/ supplement to cure the damage statins have done to my brain? Would appreciate any advice.

I had taken ambien for over 2 years, I felt like it was affecting me during the day, I felt I hadn’t slept. I started to see a health coach, she helped me get off ambien. It took about a week, I used melatonin 3mg time release and I found a portable cd player, and listened to meditation cd by Kelly Howell. It put me to sleep, and now I can go to sleep without ambien. Occasionally I need to take a melatonin.

I had to quit cold turkey as I was becoming short tempered. I just started Melatonin, a 10mg at 9pm then a 5mg at 9:30. Eventually I eliminated the 10mg and am so much better. I still do the 5mg dissolving kind but not every night, just when I have had an eventful evening or when I am away from home. It’s difficult to get off drugs.

Lunesta and other so-called “Z-drugs” such as Ambien and Sonata, although not benzodiazepines, act similarly in the body. Professor Heather Ashton (UK) is recognized as a world authority on benzodiazepines and Z-Drugs and has a manual to help people get safely taper off these drugs.

Ambien leaves me with the same ‘sub-par’ feeling. It seems to take about 12 hours before the after effects fade.

This works for me after being ‘hooked’ on a sleeping pills for years. Go to bed immediately when tired. But I have to be prepared to do this. I have ALL night/bedtime chores done: have pj’s on already, doors locked, have bed opened and welcoming, dim night light by bed. However do I have a 1/4 sleeping pill and water by bedside which I DO NOT use unless I wake up in middle of night.
When I have my first yawn or feeling of sleep, I slowly head for the bed and I purposely realize the softness, gentleness, comfort of the bed as I get in. I comfort myself and first thing you know it is morning. Usually. Usually. If I wake up at 12:30, 2 am, 3 am, I slowly raise up and take my 1/4 sleeping pill and water, and softly I am sleeping again. Maybe 1 or 2 times a week I need that help. If I wait till bedtime to do those bedtime chores, I am sunk, it just wakes me up full blast.

A little more physical activity and a carbohydrate snack (no refined sugar) works for me – popcorn, etc.

There is no information at all about how to possible taper off the drug. That’s the most helpful information as the Dr’s really don’t know.
People’s Pharmacy response: Starting at your current dose, ask the doctor to prescribe the next lower dose (eg, if you are currently taking 3 mg, ask for 2 mg). You may need to take that for a month before stepping down to the next lower dose (in this example, to 1 mg). After several weeks, try lowering the dose again by splitting the pill in half. Unfortunately, this pill is not designed to break easily, so you will probably need to purchase a pill splitter. After a few to several weeks on the half-dose, you may be able to try taking a half pill one night and none the next. The idea is to lower the dose so slowly that your body adjusts.

I have problems getting to sleep sometimes because I can’t stop my mind from wandering. My brain seems to have a mind of it’s own and aimlessly wanders from one subject to another. I’ve found that listening to a podcast on my iphone helps. It makes my brain focus on one thing and within 10 minutes I’m asleep.
I have a timer I set that will turn off the podcast in a certain amount of time, so it isn’t waking me up later. Every now and then, that doesn’t work and I find a meditation video that I can listen to. What the “experts” keep saying about not having electronic devices in the bedroom isn’t true. Without them, I can’t fall asleep. Do what works.

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