Pharmaceutical Companies Are Stealing Our Dreams


She was a 33 year old raven-haired exhausted woman who had probably been a beauty before she bore children, now aged 9, 6, and 4.  She wanted a renewal on her sleeping pills.  She did not want the antidepressant or anything else, just sleeping pills. She said that since the children all slept through the night, now she could, too.  She had not only a tubal ligation at her final pregnancy, but an ex-boyfriend who was no more than a distant memory.

Her last doctor, apparently a rarity, had actually started by prescribing the sleeping pills every third night. That had not lasted more than four weeks or so.  She wanted, and felt she “deserved,” sleep every night. She was convinced that was what the insurance doctors gave the rich people, so she was not going to let anybody skimp on her. Sleeping pills every night.  She would not have to think about anything other than keeping a bottle by her bed and getting it into her mouth.  Sleep would be automatic and life would be sweet.

The last doctor had been, to his credit, assertive enough to tell her that if this was what she wanted, she would be coming in every three months for the rest of her natural life on planet earth, to get sleeping pills. She thought that was just fine; that it was what everyone did and should do, since we had something as wonderful as sleeping pills in the world.

I really did try to give her a risk/benefits review. She didn’t care, as long as I kept giving her sleeping pills this way.  I finally gave up.  Yes, me.  Her incessant interruptions were wearing me down like continual drips will erode solid granite.

“Just give me something to sign.  That is what the others do.  I want my sleeping pills.”

I repressed the nausea growing in my stomach and gave her the most frightening warning I could. “Look, using them this way is going to shorten your life.  You want to be around as long as you can, to help these kids grow.”

She got really angry.  “If I don’t sleep I wouldn’t be around at all. I don’t care about the statistics.  I care about me and I need the damn pills.”

Sounds like an addicts’ speech to me.

She ended up with her three months worth of pills and a very long note in her chart telling about my one-sided risk benefit analysis, that she hadn’t heard.

I personally believe that anyone who is on sleeping pills, from the moment they get on sleeping pills, needs to think about getting off them.  This is not just a crazy idea.

Of all of the ways I can think of to get to sleep, sleeping pills are absolutely the worst one.

1. Sleeping pills, like other pills that pass the FDA, require only a limited amount of research to get passed. Any sleeping pill I can think of has been tested somewhere in the ball park of two weeks to two months. Once, long ago and far away, I participated in a pharmacy review that showed, in a fairly large government hospital system, an estimate of about 20% of people served were on either a sleeping pill or a chemically related anti-anxiety pill.

I remember telling people that these did not appear to be addictive.  Now I find myself consulting in public clinics where I would guess at least as many people are on these drugs.  They do not want to get off. They just do not.

People do not want the same kind of psychopharmacology that psychopharmacologists want.  They want “on/off” switches — More energy when they want it, knocked out cold when they want it.  Forever.   I know plenty of analysts who would argue that there is a grain of truth in that being a suicide equivalent.  Plenty of people, like the one cited above, hate their lives.  They think “checking out of them” every night is their birthright, from the cockamamie pharmacology our medico-political system has developed.

There simply is no research on using these medicines for twenty years. I have seen lots of patients who have done that.

2.  About five years ago a major study came out of the sleep lab at the University of California at San Diego, a city where I have lived and where I still spend a bunch of time, but where I avoid contact with University types, the same way I would anywhere else.

No, I can’t remember the numbers, but I was in shock.  Taking sleeping pills shortened people’s lives. Significantly.

Since I read this study, I have been telling every patient I have given sleeping pills to that there is some evidence this could happen.

Without exception, nobody gives a damn.

3.  Although a few companies have funded studies that claim there are no sleep electroencephalographic changes with their souped up brand new sleeping pills, the less inexpensive older ones anyone is more likely to get in a community clinic for certain, repress “REM” or “rapid eye movement” sleep.  This is the part of sleep where there is no physical movement, but there is tons of eye movement.  It also seems to be the time when people dream.  It takes up almost all of the night for someone who is a baby, slowly receding during childhood, being scatter shot in later life.

Hello, anybody listening?  The pharmaceutical companies have stolen our dreams.  I can affirm that no patient I have asked about this who chronically takes a sleeping pill has ever told me about a dream susceptible to interpretation.  I have gotten a couple of unpretty fragments which I think young “goth” patients probably made up to scare me, which luckily is not very easy.

I only have to ask one question, which is “do you think that could happen to you in real life?” and if they are crazy enough to say “yes” we pull out the anti-psychotics, but most of the time they renege back to the world of wishful thinking.

I have actually wondered whether there is some connection between the desperate “no way out” feeling that some of these people have in their lives, and the fact that they have no dreams.

4.  Alcohol also stops REM sleep.  So many people who think they have beaten the system.  They drink “a little”  “daily” and “just to help (them) sleep.”

Alcohol still seems to be the most commonly abused drug.  I care little for the statistics, more for those who tell me about building “tolerance” and not having dreams, but drinking themselves out cold every night.

I am sure they don’t reflect enough on the nature of life to realize they have stolen their own dreams.

My first physician preceptor in alcohol abuse, a recovering alcoholic himself, told me it took a year or so of sobriety for recovering alcoholics to find anything resembling a night of sleep, let alone a dream, which could take a bit longer.

5.  Isn’t it a bad idea to need a chemical so badly that you have to find a doctor to give it to you every three months? That is the standard time to see chronic patients in most public clinics.  It may be less frequent and cheaper, but you still have to sit through his/her questions.  I have never dealt personally with getting drugs from a “dealer,” but it can’t be that different.

There are many natural and healthy ways to sleep, from simply learning good habits and using common sense, to relaxing nature sounds or soft music, to natural supplements, to electrical devices that guide alpha, delta and theta brainwaves.

For more information, send for my free report, “The Big Three — Non-Drug Sleep Aids”

Sweet Dreams

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