The Dangers of Self-Medicating For Sleep Disorders

Joel Eisenberg

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Introduction

The concept of this article is simple: While it is considered risky by medical professionals to self-medicate under any circumstances (see below for link to National Library of Medicine), experts agree self-medication for sleep disorders can be particularly injurious due to the innumerable underlying reasons attributed to the disorder, which can include psychological factors such as depression, and/or physical issues such as obesity.

As an example, treating an ailment related to depression with a medication meant to improve physical capacity can be life-threatening. The reverse also holds true.

See National Library of Medicine article that elaborates on these points, “Risks of Self-Medication Practices,” here.

Diagnosed sleep disorders, also known as somnipathy, are generally defined as those that can be severe enough to interfere with normal physical, mental, social, and emotional functioning. Excerpted from Wikipedia’s entry on the subject: The most common sleep disorder is insomnia. Others include sleep apnea, narcolepsy and hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness at inappropriate times), sleeping sickness (disruption of sleep cycle due to infection), sleepwalking, and night terrors. See Wikipedia’s complete entry on the subject here, and also see here for a fully-attributed NewsBreak article I recently posted related to night terrors, “How to Identify Signs and Symptoms of Nightmare Disorder.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 7-9 hours sleep per night for healthy adults 18 and over. See here. Per the CDC, those who tend to sleep less statistically have an increased chance of suffering from a diagnosed sleep disorder.

As with most of my articles on NewsBreak, I incorporate personal information in an effort to share a relevant experience or two related to matters of which I write. As it regards sleep disorders, I average four hours of sleep nightly, and for many years suffered from obstructive sleep apnea. Due to these experiences, I have a personal interest in the concept of sleep in general, and sleep disorders specifically.

On December 26 of 2021 I posted the following article on NewsBreak, fully-attributed: “If a Loved One is Taking Prescription Painkillers or Aspirin for a Sleep Disorder, Look for Signs of a Larger Problem.” The piece quickly and unexpectedly went viral, with many of the comments related to difficulty sleeping but directed towards the efficacy of the medications listed in the title, as opposed to the sleep disorders themselves. Of those directly addressing sleep issues, the consensus among readers was to do whatever it takes, including self-medicating, to fall asleep.

The latter responses inspired this present article, where I will address mental health issues common to those who suffer from generalized sleep disorders, as well as physical issues that can cause difficulties such as obstructive sleep apnea, of which I myself had suffered for many years before being prescribed by my doctor an unexpected method of treatment.

For readers new to my NewsBreak articles, I am a former mental health professional with dual training in Abnormal Psychology and Special Education. Though I left the field to become a full-time writer, I have continued my studies in the mental health realm. Attributions for both medical claims and other professional conclusions for this article are included and linked below.

Generalized Sleep Disorders and Depression

Of pertinence to readers of my NewsBreak articles discussing psychological factors behind physical ailments, I have worked extensively with individuals suffering from depression-related issues. As several of the most common sleep disorders have been credited in part to depression, it is considered medically imperative that a doctor’s prescriptions are followed, and not abused. See here for article entitled “Depression and Sleep,” written by Rob Newsom and medically reviewed by Alex Dimitriu, M.D., founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry, who both validate this statement.

Excerpted from the article: Depression and sleep issues have a bidirectional relationship. This means that poor sleep can contribute to the development of depression and that having depression makes a person more likely to develop sleep issues. This complex relationship can make it challenging to know which came first, sleep issues or depression. Sleep issues associated with depression include insomnia, hypersomnia, and obstructive sleep apnea.

I mentioned above that my own diagnosed sleep disorder was obstructive sleep apnea. I used to wake up several times during the night unable to breathe. I felt as though my throat was closing. I was also 40 pounds overweight. My doctor advised I shed the weight. I joined a gym and followed his advice.

I have kept the weight off, and have not needed a CPAP machine for over a decade.

This is yet another reason why I strongly encourage medical intervention for those who suffer sleep disorders as I had.

Sleep Disorders in the Absence of Depression

Not all sufferers of sleep disorders suffer from depression. Other causes can include the following: asthma, excessive weight, swollen tongue and more.

Cleveland Clinic published an inclusive article on the most common causes of sleep disorder, which include medical and physical components in addition to psychological. Titled “Common Sleep Disorders,” the article can be found here.

Among other possible non-psychological causes listed by the Cleveland Clinic are ulcers and alcohol.

Of particular note is the article states over 70 million U.S. citizens are estimated to suffer from at least one of over 100 possible sleep disorders.

I suggest reviewing the linked articles herein for a bigger picture.

Conclusion

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, self-medicating under any circumstances is dangerous. As one is unconscious during the sleep process, self-medicating for sleep disorders is particularly dangerous, and also in part has been a factor in widespread abuse of over-the-counter sleeping medication, and prescribed opiates.

We all need our sleep. I reiterate: Please contact a medical professional if you have sleep issues, even if you believe nothing is wrong.

As ever, I hope this article has been helpful.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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