3. Feeling dependent?

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It can be surprisingly difficult to stop using sleeping pills.

That’s why medical authorities in North America and Europe recommend that sleeping pills should be taken for no longer than 3-4 weeks.

England’s public health agency, Public Health England, classified sleeping pills as “medicines associated with a risk of dependence or withdrawal.”

The agency warned that such “prescribed medicines may cause withdrawal symptoms when stopped abruptly. These symptoms can be distressing for the person withdrawing and may mimic symptoms of the underlying condition…”

In other words, if people decide to stop taking these pills, they find that their condition worsens -- so it’s hard for them to stop. They become ‘dependent’ on the drug.

And surveys in North America and Europe show that the demographic group most likely to get dependent on sleeping pills is older women!

Here’s how that can happen:  A woman first starts taking sleeping pills at a time in her life when stress is high. Maybe she’s lying awake for most of the night, over-thinking, worrying, anxious, vulnerable. Understandably, she wants the sedation of a sleeping pill.

Or a woman might get sleeping pills when she’s admitted to hospital. She’s then given a routine prescription to take home with her.

Or she might start taking sleeping pills to help herself cope with a temporary problem like jet lag or a noisy neighbor.

For whatever reason, the woman begins taking sleeping pills and she continues with them -- even after her life stabilizes or the initial problem has passed. At first, she may use the pills only from time to time, but eventually, she has a habit of dependence that’s hard to stop.

And her sleeping pill dependence exposes her to serious risks that worsen over time. Dozens of research studies show this (see recent emails).

The authoritative American College of Physicians summarized some of these risks in a 2016 report:

[Studies have shown that hypnotic drugs are associated with] “serious adverse effects, such as dementia, serious injury, and fractures... daytime impairment, 'sleep driving', behavioral abnormalities, and worsening depression.”

So sleeping pills might be helpful, but they should be temporary. They are not a friend!

The Problem of Shame

Note: I’ve found that women sometimes feel reluctant to discuss their sleeping pills. They tell me they feel ashamed or guilty. But I encourage them. After all, sleeping pill dependence is a common social problem. It’s not their fault.

Talking about sleeping pills can be important -- keeping them secret can hold a woman back. Research shows that the most effective way to get free from sleeping pills is to talk about them!

One published study showed that only 5% of research participants were able to stop these drugs when they tried on their own. By contrast, 70% of research participants who met with a CBT therapist managed to end their sleeping pill dependence. Talking brings change.

This is the value of psychotherapy — when a woman likes and trusts her therapist, her feelings of personal connection and honest conversation are empowering!


Let's follow this up with more optimistic news next week. Studies show that many older women find they're able to sleep better and feel happier after ending even years of sleeping pill dependence. They're resilient. The pills were actually part of the problem, not the solution!

To your natural happiness!




European guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of insomnia. Dieter Riemann, et al; Jnl of Sleep Research 2017

Management of Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Adults: A Clinical Practice Guideline from the American College of Physicians. Qaseem A, et al; ; Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2016 Jul 19

Dependence and withdrawal associated with some prescribed medicines: an evidence review. Taylor S, et al; Public Health England, London. 2019.