Sleep is an essential part of living, and lack of quality sleep is linked with disease conditions like cancer and diabetes. While most people find it incredibly easy to get the daily dose of sleep, for some getting a qualitative nights rest is a Herculean task. Most times the only way out for these set of individuals is resorting to sleeping pills.
Sleeping pills have no doubt helped a lot of people overcome their sleeping disorders. However, because of the way they work to bring about relief from a lack of sleep, there’s a small but nonetheless growing possibility for them to literally cause you to sleep forever.
It’s widespread knowledge that sleeping pills have for a long time now been the choice route for people looking to take their lives, the shocking death of Michael Jackson comes to mind. But just how many sleeping pills can cause death? How does it happen?? The answer to that question is dependent on a whole lot of factors which we shall explore in this post.
Table of Contents
Factors affecting the extent to which sleeping pills can cause death
The kind of Sleeping pill
Sleeping pills come in various shapes and sizes, each with its own unique mechanism of action.
The Z drugs including Zaleplon Eszopiclone and Zolpidem typically used to assist people who have a hard time falling asleep acts on the central nervous system (CNS) that is the brain and its associated neurons.
Acting on the whole CNS apart from inducing sleep, will also reduce heart rate (the number of times the heart beats per minute), and increase shallow breathing both of which are controlled by the CNS.
Benzodiazepines so called for their actions on the benzodiazepine receptors located in the brain are less general in their effects. While they act in pretty much the same way as the Z drugs, they are less likely to affect other unrelated systems in the body. This class of medications hosts popular sleeping pills like diazepam Triazolam, Temazepam, and Estazolam.
Other drugs like Ramelteon ignore receptor classes like Benzodiazepines and GABA receptors which affect sleep and other bodily functions to focus on unique receptor types implicated only in the mechanism of sleeping and waking. Ramelteon acts on a group of receptors, which react to the hormone melatonin released in low light conditions. This hormone conditions the body into falling asleep.
From the aforementioned, it is easy to see that the Z drugs class are the most potent, so to speak, at inducing death. Because of their broad spectrum action, they suppress other important aspects of body functioning while countering insomnia. Ramelteon, on the other hand, will rarely cause another effect aside from inducing sleep.
Tolerance to foreign substances varies from one individual to the other; what might induce a state of unconsciousness in one person might cause outright death in another. This law also applies to sleeping pills. It’s not uncommon to see patients in the ER, who took a suggested dosage of sleeping pills they found online for suicide, in an unconscious state but still alive.
For a fact, doctors take into cognizance the age and overall health conditions of an individual before giving a prescription sleeping pill – adults and teenagers typically get standard dosages, while the elderly and children get reduced doses.
Prevailing Health conditions and other external factors
The health status of an individual goes a long way to determine the amount of sleeping pills it would take to knock him/her out. An energetic and otherwise healthy individual would require a stronger dose of sleeping pills to cause significant harm compared to a weak/frail person.
The presence of a disease condition further weakens an individual’s tolerance to sleeping pills. Heart disease, diabetes, and diseases that weaken the immune system like HIV/AIDS amplify the effects of sleeping pills.
Aside from these health conditions, alcohol and other stimulants like coffee are also contraindicated in the mechanism of action of sleeping pills. Alcohol, in particular, is a known severely exacerbate the effects of sleeping pills – almost all prescription sleeping drugs come with a glaring warning to suspend alcohol intake for the treatment period.
Just how many sleeping pills does it take to die?
Well, any amount of sleeping pills that exceeds the recommended regular dose is sufficient to cause a fatality. Most sleeping pills like was stated before depress the CNS, which in turn depresses other critical aspects of the body functioning. However, the shutdown of the respiratory center of the brain and consequent cessation of breathing is almost always the primary cause of death due to an overdose of sleeping pills.
In small doses, the depressant activities of sleeping pills are just sufficient to induce sleep, without causing too much of CNS depression that might constitute a problem. In high doses, however, there’s enough sleeping pill in the blood to cause sedation and other less desirable consequences; and while you might survive an overdose based on the factors outlined above, there’s every possibility that you would acquire a life changing deformity. Organ damage (especially the brain) is one likely comeuppance of a sleeping pill overdose.
How much sleeping pills does it take to overdose?
The recommended dosage of most sleeping pills comes with their packaging or in some cases are specified by the doctors who prescribe them. Anything above this recommended dosage is an overdose, and the more it is exceeded, the greater the chances of a fatality.
That said, the LD, short for lethal dose of diazepam, one of the more popular benzodiazepines available in pharmacies today is 1240 mg/kg in rats. That means it will take 109,120mg approx. 109.12g to kill someone who weighs 88kg (the average weight for men in the US). With one diazepam tab containing just 5mg of diazepam, theoretically, it would take 21,824 tabs of diazepam to induce death at one instance – which is quite a lot.
That said, like it has been emphasized previously in this article, an overdose whether up to the LD figure or not, is sufficient to induce death. The LD is an absolute value that indicates the point of no return; an overdose, on the other hand, is the road to the point of no return, and there’s every chance that once on this path you will not find the return route back to life.
What appears to be the case from the information provided in this post, is that overdosing on sleeping pills should not be taken lightly. You should be careful to read the label and follow your doctor’s advice, and primarily be extra cautious when you suffer from any medical condition which might cause you to be more vulnerable to harmful effects of taking too much sleeping pills.
In any case, even if you struggle with insomnia, there are natural ways to deal with the problem and help you fall asleep fast.
On the other hand, if you are considering to purposefully take a higher intake of sleeping pills if you are desperate to terminate your life, you should seek for help like counselling and do not resort to extremes. There is always a chance for a bright side, as long as you live another day. Take care!