Belgians Facing a Sleeping Aid Addiction Epidemic | Sip2Sleep®

Belgians Facing a Sleeping Aid Addiction Epidemic

Addiction to over the counter (OTC) sleeping aids is nothing new—Judy Garland and Sylvia Plath are just two celebrities from nearly 100 years ago with a known dependency on these sometimes-dangerous pills. Fortunately, today there are safe, non-addictive, all-natural alternatives that may help you get the sleep you need, like Sip2Sleep®. Even though we know a lot more about addiction and the dangers of sleeping pills when taken for chronic insomnia, that doesn’t mean there are less cases of addiction. In fact, in many countries and communities, dependency on sleeping pills is at an all-time high. It has recently been estimated that 10 percent of Belgians “cannot fall asleep without a pill” according to The Brussels Times. Reporters stress that in care homes, there are even higher dependency rates (as elders have more trouble sleeping and challenges with insomnia). However, teenagers in Belgium are also reaching for OTC sleep aids at an increasing rate.
In Belgium, over one million sleeping pills are taken every day, which is roughly 400 million per year. Reporters say this is a “concerning statistic that sees the national use of heavy sleeping pills and tranquilizers only surpassed by Uruguay and Siberia.” Experts have long called this dependency a “dangerous phenomenon” and warn that those who take OTC sleeping pills long term can become “confused, apathetic and forgetful.” Chronic usage of OTC pills has also been linked to serious diseases and illnesses, and of course makes getting to sleep without the pills a challenge. There are instances when sleeping pills can be helpful, such as after taking an international flight and handling jet lag by forcing yourself to adjust your circadian rhythm. However, jet lag is a very short-term sleep disorder—and this is not what the vast majority of Belgians are using sleep aids for.

A Warning from Abroad

 It is estimated that 20 percent of people in Flanders (the Flemish region of Belgium) have had a prescription for sleeping pills in their life. Some say that they still take a pill from time to time, but 10 percent say that they “regularly use” a sedative or sleeping pill as reported by the Sciensano National Health Institute. Similar to the U.S., the most popular sleeping pills used are benzodiazepines and Z-hypnotics. Both release a substance that, in short, “knock our brains out” according to a neurologist at the University Hospital at Antwerp. He says,
You stop worrying and you sleep. 'Phew,' many people think, 'I am not awake anymore.' But you don't sleep the way you should with a pill. The purpose of sleeping is that your body recovers from the efforts of the day but under the influence of that medication you sleep lightly and superficially.
It’s also important to bear in mind that sleeping pills, whether Rx or OTC, last a lot longer than eight hours. That’s why you feel groggy or hungover in the morning. It’s common to feel tired still upon waking up, have a headache, and have trouble concentrating. Many people report feeling like “half-zombies” during the day after taking a sleeping pill, but fall into the vicious cycle of “needing” a pill to sleep at night.

Getting the Sleep You Need

Earlier this year, the Flemish Expertise Centre for Alcohol and Other Drugs issued a warning about the skyrocketing use of sleeping pills among young people. It is currently estimated that one in six teenagers have taken a sleeping pill during their life. Part of this increase is due to COVID-19, which affected individuals of all ages. However, there have also been reports of these pills being passed around at parties. It’s a concerning trend, but the most vulnerable group is still the elderly with one in three Belgians 75+ routinely taking sleeping pills.
A professor at Ghent University says,
The elderly consume by far the most sleeping pills, even though they are the most vulnerable to the side effects. They become drowsy and fall more often than usual. They often end up in hospitals although falls can also be fatal.
When more than half of those in care centers are taking “benzos,” that’s a “very serious problem” warns the experts. Instead, the professor suggests,
If a resident is a bit restless or sleeps badly, you should actually look for the underlying problem. Sometimes the elderly receive too few stimuli during the day so are not tired enough to fall asleep in the evening. Greater attention should also be paid to the side effects of the pills and how long residents can take them.
Other solutions, like Sip2Sleep®, can also help avoid sleeping pills or wean someone off of them. Made with plants and cherries, there are no side effects, no dependency, and no grogginess the next day.
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