Is Your Sleep Aid Safe?

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With as many as 70 million Americans suffering from insomnia, according to a 2007 report by the Institute of Medicine, the need for ZZZs has led to a booming market for a new class of non-narcotic sleep drugs, like Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata.

Americans spent almost $1.8 billion filling more than 16 million prescriptions for Ambien and Ambien CR last year, and almost $713 million on over 6 million prescriptions of Lunesta, according to Drug Topics digital magazine.

The new sleep aids fall into two classes - selective gamma-aminobutyric acid medications and sleep-wake cycle modifiers - and they have been billed as safer than the older class of sleep drugs, known as benzodiazepine drugs. The older drugs, which include Halcion, have been shown to be both habit-forming and addictive.

Still, the new drugs carry side effects that users should be aware of.

Addiction, sleep driving, sleep eating, and sleep sex are a few of the serious side effects reported by some patients who take the new medications.

But many doctors believe the most harmful aspect of these newer drugs is a potential overdose. Mixing them with other substances or taking doses exceeding a physician's recommendation can result in over-sedation and death.