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Sleeping pills can be risky

Oct. 29, 2012 @ 12:41 AM

When Kerry Kennedy swerved across a highway and sideswiped a tractor-trailer, she wasn't drunk. She was, her attorneys say, driving under the influence of a sleeping pill she had mistakenly taken in place of a thyroid medication.

Millions of prescriptions for what are called "Z drugs" are written every year to treat sleep problems, and most of the folks who fill them get behind the wheel to go to work or shuttle the kids. Not a good idea; these sedatives make traffic accidents much more likely!

It takes three "half lives" of a Z-pill to make sure it's gone from your system and your brain is clear. (Ask your pharmacist what your med's half life is.)

A good night's sleep has amazing, health-bestowing powers; sleeping pills often don't get you those rewards, since they're known to trigger amnesia for nocturnal eating and night excursions in the car. So here's what you can do to sleep better:

Follow set routines before bed; keep consistent to-bed times; and do nothing in the bedroom but enjoy sex and sleep.

Use red night lights in your bathroom (they won't disrupt nighttime melatonin production -- so vital for your health -- like other wavelengths do.)

For dinner, eat whole grains and light proteins; don't eat after 8 p.m.

Drink 8 ounces of tart cherry juice in the a.m. and again two hours before bed.

Avoid caffeine after lunchtime.

Don't drink alcohol before bed; it can cause neurotransmitter shifts that pop you awake and make it harder to fall back asleep.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.

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