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What You Should Know About Sleeping Pills... and tips to sleep better without medication

Richard Shane, Ph.D.

As a sleep expert who has worked with thousands of individuals suffering from chronic sleep issues, I’ve seen many patients who use sleep medication for some relief from their sleep difficulties. I am very familiar with both its benefits — and its risks.

In order to support the many clients I have worked with who want to get off sleeping medication, I have developed a method to help reduce and eliminate the need for sleep medication altogether — without withdrawal. Let me share some clinically proven methods with you.


Important Information on Sleep Medication

First, it’s important to acknowledge that sleep medication is very useful for some people because it’s far better to sleep with medication than to not sleep.

However, while sleep medication can be helpful in a crisis situation, almost all manufacturers’ labels caution against the long-term use of sleeping pills.

A study published in 2015 showed that the majority of people (approximately 80%) who use sleep medication experience residual symptoms and side effects, including headaches, nightmares, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating, impaired motor skills and lack of coordination, dry mouth, daytime drowsiness, depression and periods of amnesia.[1]

As you may also know, sleep medications can lead people to take actions in their sleep — such as driving, cooking, and online shopping — and having no memory of having done so. I know that might sound outrageous, but it is a well-documented phenomenon that has led to devastating outcomes.[2]

Perhaps most importantly, studies show that sleep medication interferes with the restorative brain processes that occur during important stages of sleep.

One important stage of sleep that is disrupted by sleep medications, is the REM stage. As you may know, REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, which is the stage where you dream and also is the part of the sleep cycle in which the brain regenerates and is associated with improving your mental and emotional health. Because pharmaceutical sleep medications reduce REM sleep, it decreases your emotional and mental resilience.

Additionally, Stage 3 sleep, the deepest phase of sleep characterized by large, slow brain waves is also impaired by sleeping medications. These large brain waves function to flush out brain toxins, called beta amyloids, that build up during the course of normal daytime functioning. However, sleep medication causes a reduction in these large delta brainwaves, and that contributes to the buildup of toxins in the brain, forming plaques which can lead to cell deterioration in the brain, causing memory issues and potentially Alzheimer’s disease.

Moreover, because of the physiological and chemical changes that occur in the brain when taking sleeping pills, most people quickly develop a tolerance that requires them to take higher doses of the drug for it to remain effective. This quickly becomes an addiction.


How to Reduce and Eliminate the Need for Sleep Medication

Now let’s turn to the good news. You can get to sleep naturally and reduce and eliminate the need for sleep medication — without withdrawal.

Neurosomatic Patterning for Sleep engages specific body sensations that open the body’s neurological pathways to sleep. This does not involve the usual techniques of relaxing your entire body, deep breathing, or visualization. These “body sensations of sleep” are common to all people, so it is a recognition of the body’s natural sleep process, not an artificial method.

Here is one technique you can try tonight which can help calm your mind and body for sleep — and begin to lessen the need for sleep medication. This tip by itself won’t be sufficient to help you reduce sleep medication completely, yet it could help you sleep a little more easily tonight.

First, a quick preparatory exercise. This will enable you to easily feel a body sensation that will help with sleep tonight:

Place one hand on your chest. Now breathe just a little more deeply than usual. Not deep breathing, just a little more deeply. Look down at your hand and with your next few exhales, you will see that as you exhale, your chest moves a little downward toward your abdomen. This naturally happens—you don’t have to try and make anything happen.

Now put your hand down and with your next few exhales, feel that small downward movement inside your chest.

Tonight when you want to sleep, breathe naturally without trying to change your breath. As you exhale, feel your chest and feel the small downward movement inside your chest down toward your abdomen.

Why? Think about how we talk about sleep—we fall asleep, a downward term. When you exhale, and you feel this downward motion inside your torso, that gently pulls you down out of your head and down toward sleep.

While this is not a complete solution, it will help, and that will feel good. With this and other simple methods, you can relearn the pathways to sleep and reduce or eliminate the need for sleep medications.

In the medication reduction programs, guidance should be provided that makes the process of reducing medication gentle and comfortable. With Neurosomatic Therapy for Sleep, clients initially continue to take the full dosage of medication while they use the sleep method to help them improve their sleep naturally. With this combination of the sleep method plus medication, clients report that they fall asleep sooner than previously when using sleep medication by itself. A critical factor to effectively eliminate the use of sleeping medication is to develop the ability to sleep well, therefore reducing the underlying need for medication in the first place. As you gain confidence in your ability to sleep, the need for medication begins to fall away.

The sleep medication reduction program reduces dosage incrementally. First, the medication is reduced to 75-80% of the normal dosage, while the person is being guided on how to relearn the natural physiological pathways to sleep. We keep the remainder of the original dosage as backup nearby so that the client can rest easy knowing they can take that if needed. Then, we work together to move to the next step in medication reduction, not forcing any specific schedule or timeline. The client’s own body tells them when it is okay to proceed to the next reduction. From my experience, every individual is different in this regard and should be treated as such.

We replace the underlying need for medication with an array of easy steps to achieve sleep. This makes it possible to slowly reduce the dosage over weeks, and eliminate the need for sleeping medication without withdrawal. It is this combination of methods that is the true secret to the power of the best sleep medication reduction programs.

When you sleep well, free of medication, you will enjoy the natural and restorative benefits of sleep. With this, your sleep is more rejuvenating and you have more energy and clarity during the day.

In summary, sleep medication is proven time and time again to be dangerous, addictive, and ineffective at producing the vital stages of sleep. Research shows how sleep medication interferes with the restorative brain processes that occur during important stages of sleep and decreases your physical, emotional, and mental resilience. In addition, sleep medication contributes to the buildup of toxins in the brain, which are thought to be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is possible to reduce and eliminate the need for sleep medication—without withdrawal. I encourage those who are dependent on sleeping pills to explore a sleep medication reduction program by researching options available and consulting with a physician about the medication-reduction process.

There is hope… healthy, restorative, medication-free sleep is available to all!




  1. Residual Effects of Sleep Medications Are Commonly Reported and Associated with Impaired Patient-Reported Outcomes among Insomnia Patients in the United States
  2. Zolpidem Ingestion, Automatisms, and Sleep Driving: A Clinical and Legal Case Series

The above article is reprinted from Psychology Today by permission from Richard Shane, Ph.D., and was co-authored by Kate Maloney, Ph.D.

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