So will that sleeping pill keep you from waking up with pain?

If you have pain, be it from a knee injury, back injury, tendonitis in the shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome or a pinched nerve in the neck, taking a sleeping pill will not prevent the pain from awakening you.

It’s amazing how many people will take sleeping pills, thinking that these drugs will keep pain from waking them up.

This is not what sleeping pills are designed for.

Here is what a doctor says: “Be aware that sleep aids generally do not work for sleep that is disrupted by pain,” says Joseph J. Ruane, DO, a sports medicine specialist with OhioHealth Physician Group.

In order for a sleeping pill to induce a slumber strong enough to be impenetrable from pain, the drug would essentially have to be a powerful painkiller  —  which it is not.

Ambien and Lunesta are frequently advertised on TV as sleep aids, not painkillers. And over-the-counter sleep drugs will be just as useless as far as enabling a person to sleep through pain.

Dr. Ruane continues: “People think sleep is sleep and a sleeping pill should help you sleep if you’re having any sort of trouble.  

“Over-the-counter medicines such as Tylenol PM or even prescription medicine made to help people sleep will generally not help if pain is the problem. 

“Most of the time, the body ignores sleep aids and the pain will still wake you, so don’t be disappointed.”

The mechanism by which sleeping pills assist in slumber is not the same mechanism by which, for example, narcotics like Percocet, or anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, work.

It’s two completely different pathways. Pain will barge right through the sedative properties of a sleeping pill and awaken you.

If you are free of pain and are having trouble falling asleep due to stress, poor eating habits or outdoor noise, then a sleeping pill can aid in making you drowsy enough to eventually fall asleep and stay that way.

But if you have a recurring pain problem in, say, your hands from carpal tunnel syndrome, or migraine headaches, then that pain will override the sleeping pill – easily, and wake you up outright.

Dr. Ruane’s practice is dedicated to comprehensive, nonsurgical musculoskeletal care. He is active in clinical research and is a nationally recognized speaker and educator.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


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