Load Shedding & Mental Health

Sleeping tablets, stress, and load-shedding

Stress has become a widely seen struggle for many people. Loadshedding and unforeseen power outages in South Africa are now more problematic than ever. Load-shedding is seen to increase stress levels because the work timeline is affected, making the whole process of meeting deadlines an ever more stress-inducing task. Not to forget to mention the loss of clients if your shop must close for that period.

With a heightened nervous system, caused by stress, our ability to settle down and get a good night’s rest is reduced making us toss and turn for hours on end.

Ironically, sleep is vital for stress management. Dr David Perlmutter, a Neurologist, shared that a study from the UK found that a week of poor sleep affects over 700 genes, including those that help manage stress, immunity, and inflammation.

In order to cope with the stressors caused by sporadic load shedding many people are self medicating in an attempt to ‘cope’ with the constant disruptions. As sleep patterns, work patterns and general daily life structures become more and more negatively impacted, people are instinctively using and abusing medication such as sleeping tablets which is the focus of this particular blog entry.

Sleeping tablets – a coping mechanism!

Sleeping tablets, also known as ‘z drugs’ are classified as a sedative-hypnotic medication, the same classification as the highly addictive benzodiazepine (anxiety medication). There are many different varieties of sleeping tablets that have different active ingredients in them (Zolpidem and Zaleplon amongst others). Both sleeping tablets and benzodiazepines work on the same areas of the brain, known as GABA receptors, these are the areas that allow us to relax focus, calm the nervous system and get some restful sleep.

With the above said, patients are going to doctors, unable to sleep properly, and getting prescribed sleeping tablets. This may be helpful as a temporary solution, but long-term use of this type of drug can cause dependency and addiction.

As with other drugs, as time goes on a higher dose is needed to get the same effect. Some people, take it further and begin to misuse the medication, either taking more than is required, or taking them for purposes other than sleep. These excessive amounts having to be consumed are a sign that addiction and dependency are forming.

Physiological dependence, psychological dependence, or both?

The addiction to sleeping tablets, as with other drugs, can present in either a physiological or psychological form of dependence. Physiological dependence is highlighted when there is a physical symptomatic withdrawal period when the medication is stopped. Psychological dependence is a more mental, and emotional reliance on the medication. Here the individual will feel they cannot manage without the medication.

Often, these types of dependency and addiction are seen together, and it takes a holistic approach to ween oneself off to prevent withdrawals as well as working with a counsellor to work on the psychological need for the drug.

What can I do to prevent addiction or, if addicted, start recovery?

The easy answer would be to say just don’t take sleeping tablets. However, there are ways to calm the nervous system without the use of drugs.

This can be through self-strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, exercise, breathwork, or creative time. However, further, therapist-assisted help may be needed in the form of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) for example, which is seen to be an effective stress-reduction model.

Should you have any concerns about stress, burnout, a dependence on medication such as sleeping tablets then contact Twin Rivers today.


+27(0)44 533 6821

+27(0)828 633 159

Rebecca Bourhill TRR 2023