Bill Maher made a great point the other night on his show. He pointed out that that it seems that when relatively young celebrity deaths are drug related, it's most often partially caused by some kind of "downer", i.e. sleeping pills. Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger; all of them died from complications related to sleeping pills. I looked back a few years. Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix -- same thing. The list goes on and on.
Celebrities with lots of fame and fortune are able to control nearly everything in their lives; what they eat, where they live, when they work, who they spend time with. They control everything. Except one thing: sleep.
So it's not hard to understand why celebrities turn to pharmaceuticals to put themselves in control of the one thing in their lives that can't be controlled.
This is a scary reality, particularly as sleep aids such as Ambien and Lunesta are becoming more and more popular and readily available. And it's not just celebrities that are trying to control their sleep. These drugs are becoming a normal part of lots of people's lives. The Today Show recently reported that 30% of women use some kind of artificial sleep aid.
One major danger associated with these "downers" is that users build up a tolerance and quickly need more and more of the drug to experience the same effect. So even if the drug isn't technically addictive, the users become addicted anyway and have to ingest more and more to get to sleep. So the use of these drugs can turn a minor sleep problem into a serious sleep problem. Combine the use of these drugs with more common sleep aids -- alcohol or over the counter products -- and they can cause serious health problems. They can quickly depress brain function and the central nervous system leading to unconsciousness, respiratory failure and death.
I'm obviously not a physician. And I recognize that when used properly sleep aids can impact people very positively, and they're probably very appropriate for patients with more serious sleep issues. But sleeplessness is not caused by a lack of Ambien or any other drug. It's caused by other factors. Treating those factors, rather than covering them up with pharmaceuticals seems like the best bet to me.
The best advice I've ever been given to cure sleeplessness is to simply stop trying to sleep. Get up, read a book, write something, clean your kitchen. Distract yourself from the thought of sleep and your body will most often get you back to bed when it's ready. In the short term, this approach may lead to some sleepless nights and yes you'll have to give up some control. But it's far safer than the artificial approach that seems to be taking so many celebrities before their time.