-Sleeping Pills and Their Effects on Patient Health-
An Interview With Dr. Shahriar Dadkhah of the Univ. of Illinois

Interview by Drew Karimlou | See more interviews with sleep specialists.

When I called Dr. Dadkhah for our scheduled interview he displayed both excitement about the prospect of sharing aspects of his research compounded with a hurried demeanor most likely a result of the constant vigilance surgeons are required to possess at all hours of the day.

To say Dr. Dadkhah is an accomplished physician, surgeon, and academic would be an understatement. He has been awarded five fellowships, is the Director of Cardiology Research at Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, is an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois School of Medicine, and has been published numerous times in the American Heart Journal.

Sleeping Pills are not dangerous if taken correctly "My research has shown that sleeping pills do not have a direct affect on the heart; in fact, it is good for cardiovascular health and especially mental health to have people maintain proper sleep cycles."

His connection to the subject of sleeping pills comes as a result of research that was conducted on the perceived adverse effects of sleeping pills on blood pressure and the fact that he prescribes sleeping pills to his patients.

Dr. Dadkhah conceded that "early on, sleeping pills were offshoots of other drugs that were used for a variety of reasons. For example, sometimes people would use drugs in which the primary effect was to regulate blood pressure in order to achieve the side effect of sleep. This can be dangerous; however, this is a problem of the past and has been alleviated. Drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, and various other certified sleeping pills are not dangerous if taken correctly."

When asked about the cardiovascular affects of sleeping pills, Dr. Dadkhah stated with certainty, "my research has shown that sleeping pills do not have a direct affect on the heart; in fact, it is good for cardiovascular health and especially mental health to have people maintain proper sleep cycles." When followed up with a question regarding whether or not sleeping pills have an adverse effect on one's life span, Dr. Dadkhah responded with a blunt, "Absolutely not."

Dr. Shahriar Dadkhah, Director of Cardiology Research at Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois and Associate Professor at the University of Illinois School of Medicine

This answer was immediately followed with a very important caveat. Dr. Dadkhah didn't pause before he explained the dangers associated with sleeping pills. He believes that, "sleeping pills can be dangerous to one's health because they can become habit-forming drugs in some patients." He then referenced the stress and anxiety associated with sleeping disorders such as insomnia and how the alleviation of these problems can lead to a dependence on sleeping pills. In his own words, "what happens is because you feel so relaxed when you take [sleeping pills], you sleep very well and you start to take them all the time, it becomes habitual. Once it becomes a habit you don't fall asleep without them and you build a strong tolerance to them. Many people start taking higher doses more often and too much of any medication at an unnecessarily high dosage is bad for you." He believes it is the responsibility of the doctor to monitor the appropriate dosage of sleeping pills and make sure patients are not inclined to addictive behavior.

Dr. Dement

Dr. D's Sleep Book Says...

"The current most widely used sleeping pills are metabolized at an optimal rate for a good night's sleep with no morning hangover."

I then began to ask questions directly related to his personal responsibility as a physician when it comes to writing sleeping pill prescriptions for his patients. Dr. Dadkhah explained that, currently, roughly 25% of his patients were on some sort of sleeping medication. This, in Dr. Dadkhah's opinion, is higher than the national average because his hospital is located in a wealthy suburb and patients tend to have better healthcare, make more trips to the hospital, and do not consider external medicinal costs as much as other regions of the Chicago area or the United States.

"Sometimes it's more important to get somebody's sleeping schedule on track quickly so they can be productive and healthy during the day."

As a physician, Dr. Dadkhah believes he has "to always watch the interaction between drugs." In his opinion, "this is where the majority of deaths related to sleeping pills occur. Besides addiction, sometimes drugs interact with each other in dangerous ways and the patient had no idea that the combination of drugs they put in their bodies would react so terribly. Educating patients is important. This is incredibly important when dealing with older patients, especially ones who have had cardiac issues in the past. When sleeping pills and other medications interact in a detrimental way, we have to prioritize which drug is more important, the sleeping pill or the other drug. Most of the time with older patients, it is the other drug. Therefore, we present various ways patients can naturally induce sleep, some of which include physical activities. That way, they can fall asleep easier and don't risk negative health consequences."

When asked why the aforementioned natural remedies used to induce sleep, such as physical activities, are not always preferred to sleeping pills, Dr. Dadkhah explained that sometimes simply getting patients to sleep when they are going through a highly stressful time in their lives is more important than the minimal risks associated with using sleeping pills. "Imagine this current recession, it is extremely high stress for some people," Dr. Dadkhah said, "sometimes it's more important to get somebody's sleeping schedule on track quickly so they can be productive and healthy during the day."

Dr. Dement

An Important Analogy From Dr. D...

Dr. Dement often compares keeping a bottle of sleeping pills in your medicine cabinet to having a fire extinguisher. In cases of sleep emergencies, where you can't sleep and your alertness the next day is severely threatened, they are there to help you put out the fire. All you have to do is just make sure to follow the dosage instructions on the bottle and your body will thank you in the morning. They're not something to rely on, but they can be very effective in helping with extreme situations.

When asked about the legal risks of prescribing sleeping pills, Dr. Dadkhah believes that, "everyone is worried about getting sued in America, that's just the way this country operates. Therefore, not acting is safer, legally, than giving a patient sleeping pills; however, the risks really aren't that bad with sleeping pills as long we make sure the appropriate dosage is given and there are no other drugs in the patient's system that would complicate its usage."

I thanked Dr. Dadkhah for his time and ended our conversation. I think he brought up some very strong points regarding the usage of sleeping pills and dispelled some important rumors about their dangers. By stating the danger of addiction was due to the "habit forming" nature of the drugs and not the drugs themselves, we can see the actual drug, in Dr. Dadkhah's opinion, is not addictive. Also, by bringing up the fact that the mixture of sleeping pills and other drugs can be dangerous, it highlighted the importance of seeing a good medical professional and being educated on the types of drugs one is putting in his or her body.

Finally, hearing Dr. Dadkhah's thought process about administering sleeping pills to his patients was very refreshing and honest. I think overall, the interview was educational and enjoyable.

According to some reports, 50 million Americans have used sleeping pills or are currently using them. This number is larger than the population of 200 countries; for this reason, the importance of understanding more about the subject is statistically significant, and I believe Dr. Dadkhah's interview shed light on this topic.

For more information about Dr. Dadkhah and his practice, visit his website here.

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