Sleep Medication Warning Sparks Concern

New warnings are sparking concern about some of the most-widely prescribed medications - pills to help you fall asleep.

Millions of people take prescription medicines like Lunesta or Ambien to fall asleep. Dr. Shawn Magee, medical director of the Stormont-Vail Sleep Center, says the drugs work on an area of the brain to help it lose wakefulness.

But the Food and Drug Administration wants stronger warning labels on more than a dozen sleep aids because, in some cases, they seem to work a little too well. Some people report complex sleep-related behaviors, like eating or even driving with no memory of it. It first made headlines last year when Sen. Patrick Kennedy crashed his car, reportedly after taking the sleep aid Ambien and a sedative.

Dr. Magee says it is concerning because, even if it's not the extreme side effect, if you get up during the night and are excessively sleepy, you'll be at higher risk for falling, which could cause a fracture or some other injury.

Dr. Magee says the side effects are rare, but the warnings are a reminder for any medication. He says people need to sit back and take time and think about whether a medication is really necessary and what could happen from taking it. After that, Dr. Magee says, when all else fails, a medication may be necessary because sleep is so vital. He says it not only gives the brain a time to rest, it also is when our body's immune systems and healing processes carry out what they need to do.

Dr. Magee says sleep aids should be taken in the lowest possible dose and tell your doctor about any side effects you experience.

Good Sleep Habits
*Participate in relaxing activities before bedtime. Try deep breathing, yoga, medication or muscle relaxation techniques. Take a warm bath. Play a quiet game or read or book.
*Set aside time for problem-solving earlier in the day so you don't carry anxious thoughts to bed. Try writing down your worries in a "worry book," then set it aside well before bedtime.
*If watching the clock makes you anxious about sleep, turn the clock so you can't see it or put it in a drawer.
*Go to bed only when you are sleepy and get out of bed if not asleep within 20 minutes.
*Exercise regularly, but avoid any strenuous activity near bedtime.
*Avoid stimulating beverages close to bedtime.
*Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a day. The average child needs about 11 hours of sleep. Teenagers should get about 9 hours a night. Sleep needs decrease to about 6 hours a night for senior citizens.

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