Hectic college life a cause of student sleep aid abuse

ENTER SANDMAN: Sleeping pills can become addictive, whether they’re prescription or not, when used inappropriately. Jesssica Hodder // Hurricane Staff.

Balancing homework, studying and extracurricular activities have caused many students to develop erratic sleeping patterns and to resort to sleeping aids for relief.

“I’ll take [over-the-counter sleep aid Unisom] an hour or half an hour before I’m going to go to sleep, so by the time I get into bed I’m feeling drowsy and able to sleep,” sophomore Kuba Bartkowiak said. “It’s kind of like a timesaver for me.”

Many students complain that juggling multiple responsiblities, such as campus organizations, jobs and social activities, can lead to sleeping disorders.

“Insomnia is pretty common among the people I know,” Bartkowiak said. “If you can’t get to sleep normally and you’ve got class, you have to do something.”

A study by the Journal of American College Health found that 33 percent of students surveyed took longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, 43 percent woke up more than once during the night and 33 percent of these students felt they hadn’t received enough sleep the next day.

Sleeping medications, such as Unisom and Nighttime Sleep Aid, can be bought over-the-counter at local stores and pharmacies. They contain Doxylamine, a short-term sedative.

Similarly, medications such as Tylenol PM and Benadryl, both containing the antihistamine Diphenhydramine, are commonly used to treat allergies and the common cold. However, the drowsy side effects produced by Diphenhydramine make Tylenol PM and Benadryl desirable sleep aids.

The use of prescription drugs is on the rise among college students. According to a Web survey of 3,639 college students conducted by Sean McCabe, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan, 59.9 percent of students reported medically using prescription drugs, including sleep aids, with a prescription, and 15.8 percent used these medications both with and without a prescription.

Commonly used prescription sleep aids include Ambien and Lunesta. Both medications work with GABA, a chemical naturally found in the brain, by weakening activity in surrounding brain cells, which leads to sleep.

Nancy Nur, a pharmacist at CVS Pharmacy in Coral Gables, said regular use of sleeping medication could lead to lethargy and drowsiness in the morning and may prompt some students to use amphetamines, such as the prescription drug Adderall, to function the next day. Other side effects may include next-day dizziness, headaches and trouble with coordination.

“People may need to start taking more meds to deal with the effects of the [sleeping medication],” Nur said.  “It’s counterproductive and putting your body through a lot.”

Marc D. Gellman, a research associate professor for health psychology, said that in most cases, these sleep aids are not truly addictive since the body doesn’t develop a physical dependence on them. However, a person can become mentally reliant on these sleeping medications and feel as if they must take them for sleep.

“[A psychological addiction] develops where you learn that you can become reliant on a medication to help you sleep,” Gellman said, adding that there will be rebound effects due to lack of sleep, like taking caffeine pills such as Vivarin, which can lead to unhealthy sleeping patterns.

He also warns there is still a risk of becoming dependent on sleep aids the same way some people rely on caffeine to stay awake or start the day.

Nur said students should begin developing a healthy sleeping pattern instead of relying on these medications for sleep, which can also result in other side effects, including constipation and dry mouth.

“Develop a routine before bed, like dimming the lights and reading,” Nur said. “The brain is going to be triggered to release serotonin, which leads to sleep.”

The National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep for an adult.

“I judge things on their importance to me,” sophomore Jordan Thomas said. “If making an A on my test is most important to me at that moment, then I am going to stay up, study and lose sleep if I have to.”

To learn more about sleep aid addiction or receive counseling for an addiction, please visit the Counseling Center located at the Center for Student Services Building 21-R or call 305-284-5511.