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Buy pills? Powders? Tea? Shots? Restless nights can be a financial nightmare

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August 19, 2012|By Mick Swasko, RedEye

For the past three months, Zachary Jablow has gotten only about five hours of sleep per night.

The 25-year-old Lakeview resident stresses over working with big-name clients at a recording studio and has a hard time sleeping because every thought of the day rushes into his head at bedtime. He stays up until 4 a.m. watching "Duck Dynasty" marathons. He tosses and turns, which really miffs his girlfriend.

He has an energy crash every afternoon.

"I get really irritable," said Jablow, who estimates he has shelled out about $100 on various sleep aids since his troubles started.

A powder called Natural Calm from Natural Vitality, which he found effective, set him back $65.

Before that, the new ZzzQuil sleep aid from Vicks, the makers of NyQuil, cost $8. Tylenol PM was $14.

He also buys relaxation drinks about two or three times a week—at three or four bucks a pop.

"It's definitely not in the budget," said Jablow, who said he had to experiment to find what worked best for him. "It was definitely kind of costly."

The makers of drugs and natural remedies that promise relief see the tossing-and-turning masses line up to buy some rest. Market research firm Mintel estimates the industry's retail sales were up nearly 12 percent last year—from

$237 million to an estimated $265 million. The sector could pull in as much as $328 million by 2016, according to forecasts. Proctor and Gamble, the parent company behind Vicks ZzzQuil, estimates the industry even higher, at more than $500 million. And with about six in 10 Americans reporting regular trouble sleeping, according to Mintel, it's no wonder.

"I can say that when I first became a pharmacist, I worked at CVS [and] there were just a few options, the Tylenol PM and Advil PM," said Aaron Pietrykowski, owner of Aaron's Apothecary in Lincoln Park. Now, he says, sleep aids are a bigger business. "At our store, we have probably 10 to 12 options for sleep in some sort of herbal or homeopathic or natural route."

A drug called diphenhydramine HCl, found in sleep aid versions of Tylenol, Advil and ZzzQuil, was until 2010 the most common over-the-counter remedy for sleeplessness. But in 2011, the market shifted, giving natural sleep aids the top share in the industry, with sales growing about 46 percent, to $60 million. During the same time, products containing diphenhydramine HCl fell about $14 million in sales—almost 21 percent.

Experts say natural and herbal remedies might work for some, but often those products are unable to treat the underlying issues that prevent people from sleeping.

"It could be anything from [post-traumatic stress disorder] to sleep apnea to circadian rhythm disorder. It can be a host of things [that cause restlessness]," said Amy Guralnick, who practices sleep medicine at the University of Chicago.

She said she has seen several patients useover-the-counter medicinesto sleep. If patients are too reliant on the drugs, she weans them off slowly and teaches them techniques to sleep without them. She also checks to see if the person is getting the proper amount of rest for his or her own body.

"I think the herbal industry, the over-the-counter industry is preying on people thinking they need eight hours of sleep," Guralnick said. "Everybody is different, not everybody needs eight hours."

According to the American Sleep Association, there is no "magic number" when it comes to the number of hours of rest per night. The organization says that media and health groups do regularly suggest getting more sleep, but scientific studies have proved that sleep varies across populations.

Overall, the association says, two research studies have shown seven to eight hours is generally the amount of sleep needed for healthy adults, but the number gets complicated when "sleep debt"—or accumulated hours of sleep lost for any reason—adds up.

Guralnick said there's nothing wrong with taking diphenhydramine HCl-based products as a short-term solution to occasional sleeplessness. But those who have chronic issues falling asleep should see a doctor, she said. Many times, there is an underlying reason for their trouble resting.

"I've had patients come in and say they're on way more than therapeutic doses of Benadryl to sleep at night," she said. "I can help them."

For Jablow, the nights of either reaching for the medicine cabinet or being up to see dawn hopefully are coming to an end, he said, adding that he plans to see a doctor about the problems.

"It definitely takes a toll on my body, my health," he said. "It's inconvenient, it's a little pricey and I flat-out wish I didn't even have the expense. It's not something I can typically afford."

SOUND ADVICE

There are a variety of treatments for sleeplessness because of the variety of possible causes. In most cases, simple tricks—or good sleep hygiene, as University of Chicago sleep expert Amy Guralnick calls it—are a good start to better sleep. Her simple tips:

>>Avoid computers and phones late at night

>>Avoid naps and caffeine

>>Eat healthy

>>Don't go to bed unless you're really tired

mswasko@tribune.com | @mickswasko

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