By Nurse Mark
I’ve written before (some might even say I’ve ranted) about the dangers of drugs for sleep.
But if those articles don’t make you very afraid of the dangers of sleeping pills, maybe this most recent bit of research will.
You see, while this latest study is of special concern to those who suffer with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) it also applies to almost everyone who has any sort of “bad memory” that they would be just as happy to not remember.
PTSD is best known for affecting those who have been involved in horrific and traumatic situations; we think of military veterans who have seen the horrors of war or first responders who have dealt with terrible accidents and disasters or people who have survived such horrifying events as the 9/11 attacks.
But in truth, PTSD can be more subtle. It can be anything that creates a traumatic stress for the person involved. The car wreck that shook you up. The mugging that you survived. The 5th grade beating at the hands of the schoolyard bully. The nasty, bitter divorce you went through. All of these are the sort of memories that we are just as happy to forget.
So, what has all this got to do with sleeping pills?
Well, we all have occasional difficulty with sleep but people suffering PTSD are more likely to have sleep difficulties. Often, it is the memories of a traumatic event that disrupts sleep. So, it is no surprise that PTSD sufferers seek help to sleep and are often prescribed sleeping pills. Pills like Ambien, or Lunesta and other members of the “Z-drug” family, or benzodiazepines such as Valium or Librium or Ativan.
And yes, these pills do indeed help people sleep. It turns out that these pills also seem to make it easier for people to remember. Now, this might be a good thing, if it helped us to remember the things we want to remember – like the answers for the big exam, or the date of our mother-in-law’s birthday, or passwords and PIN numbers, or where we put the car keys and just where in that big parking garage did we leave the car.
But no, sleeping pills don’t help us remember these useful things. It turns out that they make it easier for us to remember traumatic and stressful things. Like the things that caused us the PTSD that is disturbing our sleep so that we want help from a sleeping pill.
Can you see the problem here?
You have unpleasant old memories that sometimes keep you awake – so you take a sleeping pill, But the sleeping pill makes it easier to revisit unpleasant old memories… and they keep you awake… Uh-Oh – I can see this is not going to end well…
A recently published study titled “Pharmacologically Increasing Sleep Spindles Enhances Recognition for Negative and High-arousal Memories.” provides plenty of caution for anyone who uses these drugs for sleep, and especially those people who may suffer from anxiety or PTSD.
In an article published by University of California Riverside on June 12, 2013, researcher Sara C. Mednick, assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside says of of the study:
“I was surprised by the specificity of the results, that the emotional memory improvement was specifically for the negative and high-arousal memories, and the ramifications of these results for people with anxiety disorders and PTSD,” Mednick said. “These are people who already have heightened memory for negative and high-arousal memories. Sleep drugs might be improving their memories for things they don’t want to remember.”
So, what can you do if you can’t sleep – just suffer? Of course not!
Please visit Dr. Myatt’s page Insomnia where she discusses natural strategies for good sleep. We have also had excellent results with an herb called Kavinace, which potentiates GABA, one of the main inhibitory neurotransmitters. Higher GABA levels can relieve anxiety and promote restful sleep.
Let’s face it – all we really want is a good night’s sleep with pleasant dreams. So why would we take drugs that have been shown to help us dredge up unhappy memories? Banish the benzo’s and boot the Lunesta moth out of your bedroom and get a healthy, natural night’s sleep!
Sleep Mechanism Identified That Plays Role in Emotional Memory: UC researchers also find that Ambien heightens recollection of and response to bad memories. http://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/15887
Erik J. Kaestner, John T. Wixted, and Sara C. Mednick, University of California: Pharmacologically Increasing Sleep Spindles Enhances Recognition for Negative and High-arousal Memories. Posted Online June 14, 2013. (doi:10.1162/jocn_a_00433) http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/jocn_a_00433
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