History of Sleeping Aids

Published: 14th January 2010
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Humans have been using sleeping aids to help them fall and stay asleep since bed pillows were made of straw. Today there are various modern pharmaceutical drugs to treat sleeplessness but there are also many natural substances, from warm milk (your mom was right) to herbs that date back to Golden Age Greece.

The most popular plant used by the Greeks was the poppy, from which we get opium. In addition to aiding sleep, poppy preparations were powerful pain-killers, and are represented in the Odyssey story by "lotus" plants. The poppy's potency helped the Egyptians hypnotize people, induce sleep in those who had sleep disorders and even prepare people for rituals. Although this drug had some negative side effects and was potentially addictive, the fast relief of insomnia was very inviting. There are several ancient paintings of the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos, holding a poppy flower. Despite the popularity of opium as a sleep aid, there were many other natural preparations available. The ancients used an herb called henbane, the bark of the mandrake and certain kinds of lettuce juice as remedies. Finally, alcohol was also used as a last resort to help a person fall asleep.

Into modern times

In the 1850's two new kinds of sleep aids emerged on the scene. The first was called chloral hydrate and was developed in Germany beginning in the 1830s, although it took a few years to get into general use. It was an extremely fast-acting central nervous system (CNS) depressant and made an individual "fall out" or pass out rather quickly if not administered in small doses. The drug also had a few nicknames, known as Mickey Finn, Mickeys or knock-out drops.

There was a great potential for individuals to overdose on chloral hydrate when it was taken with alcohol. In fact, some people never woke up after consuming both the drug and an alcoholic beverage. Another, somewhat safer form of sleep aid was introduced around this time, the mid-1800s, and was made of a combination of bromides. Although the drug was originally used on people with epilepsy, it was soon discovered that it made a person fall asleep rather quickly, too.

A new generation of remedies

The 20th century introduced a new generation of sleep remedies. Barbiturates soon became the most commonly used way to fall asleep. One of the most popular was barbitone, marketed under the name Veronal. Barbiturates are not used very often these days, although on rare occasions they are employed for people resistant to other medications. This is due to the high addictive potential of barbiturates and the fact that there are risks of overdose with them, as well. It is harder to break a barbiturate dependency than an opium, morphine or even heroin dependency. Many doctors are not willing to take the chance of prescribing potentially addictive or deadly drugs to cure a non-life-threatening condition such as insomnia.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned many of the dangerous substances found in sleep aids in the first half of the 1900s, and due to the number of deaths and overdoses over the years drug makers were motivated to develop newer, safer sleep aids. In the latter half of the century, new sleep aids such as Valium and Xanax, which are called benzodiazepines, were introduced and accepted as safer forms of sleep remedies. Although they still pose a risk for addiction, they are a lot safer than the alternatives.

The "new naturals"

Today, there are many natural remedies that seem to provide help for the sleepless, and the research and development of sleep aids is far more advanced than they were a few decades ago - for both manmade and natural treatments. Chemists and drug companies have been able to combine several different herbs and herbal extracts to create a healthier form of sleep aid. One of the most popular among these is St. Johns Wort. This remedy has passed the test of time and the latest scientific research suggests it can be a safe and effective form of sleep aid.

The other commonly used ingredients in herbal remedies are valeriana wallichi and nardostchya jatamanshi, which can act as mild sedatives. The main advantage of these is the lack of risk for toxicity, addiction or dependency. Herbal sleep aids create few side effects at the low recommended doses, and problems are only reported on the rare occasions when large quantities are taken against advice. These herbal remedies have mild to moderate side effects unless combined with alcohol and drugs, and abuse can be dealt with more easily and without danger in most cases.

Sleep aids help people get a better night's sleep and to wake up refreshed. They have come a long way from their ancient predecessors and continue to have an important role to play in the lives of those with sleep disorders.Even doctors recommend white noise sound machines such as the Marpac Marsona 1288A and SAD lights for patients who are sufferers of tinnitus or have difficulty sleeping. These patients can be shift workers who have to sleep during the day, new parents contending with a crying baby, or anyone who is easily distracted by outside noise or has difficulty sleeping for any reason. Visit Sound Machines Direct.com today.

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