Can sleep be triggered by pills, alcohol or melatonin ?


Need to sleep

Sleep scientist Matthew Walker says in his book “Why we sleep” that routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.

Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure.

Are you getting enough sleep?

Un-refreshed feelings that compel a person to fall back asleep midmorning, or require the boosting of alertness with caffeine, are usually due to individuals not giving themselves adequate sleep opportunity time—at least eight or nine hours in bed. When you don’t get enough sleep, one consequence among many is that adenosine concentrations remain too high. Like an outstanding debt on a loan, come the morning, some quantity of yesterday’s adenosine remains. You then carry that outstanding sleepiness balance throughout the following day. Also like a loan in arrears, this sleep debt will continue to accumulate.

Excerpt From: Matthew Walker. “Why We Sleep.” iBooks.

Common remedies for inducing sleep

Having read the disastrous effects of not sleeping, there is a need for quality sleep. In a profession like aviation where planes are flying around the clock, crew transiting a number of time zones frequently and a number of other reasons are fatigued due to loss of sleep and the piling sleep debt.

The crew then resorts to a number of ways to repay this sleep debt which may in fact aggravate the situation unknowingly.

The 3 common strategies used by the crew to induce sleep are the sleeping pills, night cap (alcohol), and melatonin pills. These remedies which are expected to repay the sleep debt can in fact backfire if their functioning is not understood.

Excerpt From: Matthew Walker. “Why We Sleep.” iBooks.

Sleeping pills

It’s easy to see the appeal of sleeping pill for someone struggling with insomnia.

But sleep experts caution that whatever is happening after you take a sleeping pill, it’s not natural sleep — and if you look at the brainwaves of people who have taken pills like Ambien, they aren’t getting real sleep.

As Walker puts it in his book, people who have taken sleeping pills aren’t awake, but they aren’t actually sleeping either. They’re sedated.

And there are some indications that medication-induced “sleep” could be harmful. Some research indicates that zolpidem (Ambien) may weaken the brain cell connections associated with learning — it may be causing memory damage over time.

Plus, people who stop taking sleeping pills often experience a “rebound” insomnia afterwards that pushes them back to those same pills.


Short of prescription sleeping pills, the most misunderstood of all “sleep aids” is alcohol. Many individuals believe alcohol helps them to fall asleep more easily, or even offers sounder sleep throughout the night. Both are resolutely untrue.
Alcohol is in a class of drugs called sedatives. It binds to receptors within the brain that prevent neurons from firing their electrical impulses. Saying that alcohol is a sedative often confuses people, as alcohol in moderate doses helps individuals liven up and become more social.

How can a sedative enliven you? The answer comes down to the fact that your increased sociability is caused by sedation of one part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, early in the timeline of alcohol’s creeping effects. As we have discussed, this frontal lobe region of the human brain helps control our impulses and restrains our behavior. Alcohol immobilizes that part of our brain first. As a result, we “loosen up,” becoming less controlled and more extroverted. But anatomically targeted brain sedation it still is.”

“Give alcohol a little more time, and it begins to sedate other parts of the brain, dragging them down into a stupefied state, just like the prefrontal cortex. You begin to feel sluggish as the inebriated torpor sets in. This is your brain slipping into sedation. Your desire and ability to remain conscious are decreasing, and you can let go of consciousness more easily.

Sedation is not sleep. Alcohol sedates you out of wakefulness, but it does not induce natural sleep. The electrical brainwave state you enter via alcohol is not that of natural sleep; rather, it is akin to a light form of anesthesia.


Your suprachiasmatic nucleus which converts the light signals to useful information for the brain, communicates its repeating signal of night and day to your brain and body using a circulating messenger called melatonin.

At night, instructed by the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the rise in melatonin begins soon after dusk, being released into the bloodstream from the pineal gland, an area situated deep in the back of your brain. Melatonin acts like a powerful bullhorn, shouting out a clear message to the brain and body: “It’s dark, it’s dark!” At this moment, we have been served a writ of nigh time, and with it, a biological command for the timing of sleep onset.
In this way, melatonin helps regulate the timing of when sleep occurs by systemically signaling darkness throughout the organism. But melatonin has little influence on the generation of sleep itself: a mistaken assumption that many people hold. People may sleep a few minutes faster than their usual sleeping pattern.

mindFly analysis

The science of sleeping proves that the quality of sleep is more important rather than the act of sleeping. Therefore the natural sleep is beneficial for all the reasons stated by the scientists.

Mindfully if there are a number of thoughts bothering you, it is difficult to sleep despite the science of sleeping. There is a need to remove the clutter of thoughts to induce sleep. Keeping the mind busy in other activities is one way of achieving this result.

Listening to light music with minimum lyrics distracts your mind or keeps the mind busy with listening to music while the brain successfully induces sleep. This is also used when concentrating on your work with numerous thoughts disturbing your concentration.

Meditation is a proven means of relaxing and improving the quality of sleep.

To summarize, the natural sleep process needs to be understood and quality of sleep must be looked at rather than the quantity of sleep. Being mindful of you sleep will help produce good habits and at the end of the day we are slaves to our habits. Lets build good sleep habits.

About Capt. Amit Singh

I think therefore I am Airlines Operations and Safety balance expert. A former head of operations/training and safety of successful LCC's in India. An experienced member of the startup teams of these airlines has hands-on experience in establishing airlines systems and processes.

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