How to Avoid Prescription Sleep Drugs

PHOTO: Adults who take sleeping pills in even small numbers over their lifetimes may be nearly four times more likely to die earlier.
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If you have trouble sleeping, the recent headlines linking sleeping pills to death probably aren't helping.

A new study in the journal BMJ Open links even the occasional use of prescription sleeping pills, also called hypnotics, to an increased risk of death and cancer. Researchers looked at the medical records of more than 10,500 people who took prescription sleep aids—such as Ambien and Restoril—and compared them to people who didn't take the meds. The findings? Those who took as few as eight pills a year had about a 350 percent increased risk of death.

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Before you panic, the study doesn't actually prove that sleeping pills kill. "We can't be sure that there is causality here," says study author Dr. Robert Langer. "But we know that there is a strong association that will not go away."

If you're one of the millions of Americans struggling with sleep, you may want to give some natural remedies a try. These expert-approved tips can help take you to dreamland—and keep you there:

Pick a Time and Stick to It

Bedtimes aren't just important for toddlers. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day keeps your internal biological clock on track, says sleep specialist Michael Breus, PhD. In fact, if you need an alarm clock, you should be going to bed earlier (he hasn't used one in 20 years!). Want to stay up a little later on the weekend? Go for it, but make sure you wake up at the same time as you would on a weekday so you don't mess with your internal clock—and try not to get less than 6.5 hours of shuteye.

Schedule Earlier Sweat Sessions

Exercise may make you feel exhausted, but a late-night workout could make getting to sleep tough. "When your body gets all revved up and ready to exercise, it stays revved, which can inhibit sleep," says Dr. Breus. Avoid exercising four hours before lights out. Not realistic for your schedule? Taking a hot bath after your workout, approximately 90 minutes before bed, will raise your core body temperature. When your temperature goes back to normal, it will cause a release in melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.

Count Your Way Back to Sleep

Getting to sleep is just one battle—actually staying there wins you the war. If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, try a twist on counting sheep. Dr. Breus tells his patients to count backward from 300 by threes. Sounds boring, right? Good, you're likely to doze off somewhere in the middle.

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Try a Natural Remedy

Herbs like valerian root, passion flower, and magnolia bark (available at most health food stores) can all aid with sleep and can be consumed in a tea or supplement format. For people who have trouble falling asleep, a melatonin supplement can be a safe and effective fix when taken in the proper dose, says Dr. Breus.

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More from Prevention:

Sneaky Signs You Drink Too Much

10 Reasons Why You Can't Sleep

15 Surprising Ways to Improve Your Cholesterol

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