by Darrel Crain, D.C.
In case you've been asleep and didn't notice, insomnia has been elevated to the status of a public menace. Depression, auto accidents and high disease rates are all being blamed on sleep deprivation. "He sleeps well that knows not he sleeps ill," observed Publilius Syrus in the first century B.C.
Traditionally, insomnia has been blamed on such things as worry, poor diet, too much coffee, late night partying and so on. Luckily, a few years ago drug company-funded researchers woke up and smelled the coffee themselves. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work, sparing no expense to pry the dark, mysterious covers off of insomnia. Years of work and millions of dollars were spent with careful data gathering, analysis and number crunching. All this painstaking effort was reported in impressive four-color bar graphs, pie charts and video productions. The unmistakable conclusion of all this is truly a wakeup call: everyone needs a prescription for sleeping pills!
Somehow though, the researchers failed to unearth the real cause of insomnia: children. This basic fact could have easily been confirmed if the researchers had only asked people who have kids. If you can manage to get their attention for a few seconds, active parents will gladly reminisce about those long, restful, dreamy nights of sleep they once had before their children came along. That being the case, the only way to be rid of sleepless nights would be to banish children. Obviously, such an effort would be difficult at best, and certain minor ethical concerns would need to be overcome first. Should we ask Big Pharma to put one or two of their lawyers to work on this sticky issue? Just a thought.
Anyway, the endless drug wars continue on many fronts. The noble blitzkrieg to defeat insomnia is only the latest offensive. Of course, in the old days people drank a warm glass of milk or a shot of whiskey, or simply counted sheep to get to sleep. But these are modern times, the era of better living through chemicals, and so we must medicate. Just by coincidence, the number of different brands of sleeping pills has grown by leaps and bounds in the last year or two. And if the chief of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has his way, more pills will quickly stack up on pharmacy shelves due to his push for more fast-track drug approval.
"Fast-tracking" is a drug industry term, which when translated means, "forget about safety testing." As you can imagine, this concept is very popular with the drug industry. Think of the money to be saved if drug companies no longer need to explain away all the weird side effects that show up in safety tests! By the way, "side effect" is another drug industry term causing some confusion. Translated into English it means "unwanted effects directly caused by taking the drug." For example, a side effect among people taking antidepressants is an increased rate of suicide, not exactly the outcome they were hoping for. The original purpose for antidepressants, you may recall, was to overcome depression.
At least one major pharmaceutical company CEO complained recently that the media is forcing the government to focus too much on unwanted side effects of drugs and not enough on the benefits. He makes a good point. Would you readily inject the bacterium that causes botulism into your face for cosmetic reasons if you noticed one of the side effects was "sudden death?" This may explain why side effects are listed in print so tiny you need an electron microscope to read them.
Which brings us back to sleeping pills. Consider the mean-spirited display of news reporting over a few minor side effects now showing up in people taking sleeping aids. Of course, sleep-walking is no big deal and becomes dangerous only when the drugged sleeper walks out of the house into traffic, or climbs out of an upper story window. But sleep-eating? Now that is really something. It seems that sleep-drugged people climb out of their beds, sleep-walk into the kitchen and claw through the refrigerator's contents like a wild animal, eating everything within reach. One report describes a woman who realized she had a drug-induced eating disorder only after she had gained 100 pounds. If you have noticed candy bar wrappers and empty ice cream cartons under your covers lately, you may be experiencing sleep-eating.
Another emerging side effect is sleep-driving. (True, sleeping aids were supposed to reduce auto accidents, but let's not bring that up now, we don't want to be rude.) Increasingly, people arrested for impaired driving are found to test positive for sleep medication in their bloodstream rather than alcohol. Personal accounts are piling up of people who wake up to find themselves behind the wheel of their car crashing into another automobile, or driving down some unknown road for no good reason they can think of.
I must say that I agree with the poor CEO of that giant drug company, though. We should not allow these pesky side effects to overshadow the potential benefits. In fact, I foresee an entire new off-label use for these drugs. Imagine how much time we would all be able to save if we could sleep right through mealtime, and drive to work before we had to wake up! Could this be the promised wonder drug that changes the essence of how we live our lives? Just think of all that space in our houses now devoted to beds and bedrooms that could be used for something else, for example, storing cases of candy bars and plugging in extra refrigerators!
If the drug companies work this idea properly, sleep-walking can give way to sleep-working! Remember folks, you read it here first. I can't take full credit for this idea, though. Way back in 500 B.C. Heraclitus commented, "Even sleepers are workers and collaborators in what goes on in the universe." However, this whole idea may be put to rest by Big Pharma's accountants. If people were asleep all day through the long hours of drudgery at their jobs, what would happen to the sales of antidepressants?
Copyright © 2006 Darrel Crain - All rights reserved.
Dr. Darrel Crain
Natural Health Writer
President, CCA San Diego County District