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FOX Medical Team

Are you using your sleep aids correctly?

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ATLANTA -

If you can't sleep, you have plenty of options: over the counter sleep medications, prescription sleeping drugs like Lunesta, Sonata or Ambien, or you can try a sleep supplements like melatonin.
    
But, sleep specialist Dr. Michael Breus says we're making some pretty big mistakes in how we use these sleep aids.

"Sometimes people can't fall asleep. Sometimes people can't stay asleep.  Some people will wake up too early.  Some people will have insomnia associated with pain, so only when they're feeling pain," said Breus.

If that's you, and you can't sleep because you're hurting, Breus says an over the counter pain medication with a sleep aid may help.
 
"If you find that you're taking one of those every single night and it's been months and months of doing it, you probably want to talk to your doctor about that. Are they safe? Yeah, they are safe.  Are they effective? They can absolutely be effective if you're using them the right way, for the right situation," Breus said.

The same explanation applies to prescription sleep medications like Ambien.

"Ambien is an excellent drug when used appropriately.  There have been a lot of stories about people doing different things, when taking Ambien: Sleep walking, sleep eating, sleep driving things like that," said Breus.

To lower your risk a problem like that, Breus says take it and turn the lights out. Don't brush your teeth, or wash your face.

"Because what happens is it lowers your inhibitions, and you're walking around and say, 'You know, I'm hungry!  I think I'm going to go to McDonalds and get some fries!'  Right?  And you've got Ambien on board, and that is when bad stuff can definitely happen," said Breus.

If you're taking melatonin, and it's not working that well, Breus says rethink your timing.

"Melatonin is a sleep regulator, not a sleep initiator," explained Breus.
 
Melatonin can help trick your brain into thinking it's bedtime, but Breus says it can't actually make you sleepy. So, don't take it like a sleeping pill. Take it about 90 minutes before bed.

"Most people take it five minutes before lights out and it doesn't work.  And they wonder why it doesn't work, so they take another one.  And it's still not working and they take a third one.  And that's where we start to see problems," Breus said.

Breus says if you're not sleeping well on a regular basis talk to your doctor about the problem. Remember, these medications can help you fall asleep, or stay asleep, but they don't really  address what's causing your insomnia.

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