Harvard Health Letter

The savvy sleeper: Wean yourself off sleep aids

Behavior and medication changes can help you kick dependence and get a better night's rest.

Do you take a drug to help you sleep every night? You're not alone. Millions of Americans rely on prescription sleep medications, called sedative hypnotics. "People believe they can't sleep without them, and they stay on them for years," says sleep expert Dr. Lawrence Epstein, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. But you can wean yourself off the drugs using a combination of dose reduction and behavior changes.

Understand what you're up against

Dr. Epstein points to two challenges when it comes to fighting sleep aid dependence. One is that when you stop taking the drugs, you get a withdrawal response that keeps you from sleeping well. "If you stop too quickly you can get rebound insomnia, which makes symptoms worse," says Dr. Epstein.

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