Stilnox has a bad reputation. A few years ago, horror stories were being told about how people using the sleeping pill were doing bizarre things in the middle of the night and having no memory of it the next day. One woman cooked a complete baked dinner over a few hours, a man went driving in his car and sleep-walking was common.
Horrified, I did an article about Stilnox and the effects it was having on some people, and a women who was a chronic insomniac told me to stop knocking the drug because it had saved her life. Her insomnia got so bad, when her GP prescribed her the drug, for the first time in years she went to bed and slept the whole night through.
Being able to go to bed and sleep is supposed to be a normal human function but it isn't for many. Imagine lying awake night after night, longing for sleep that won't come, and reaching over to turn off the alarm clock, still wide awake at 6 am as you watch another dawn break outside your window. You become afraid of going to bed, knowing that tomorrow morning you have to present yourself bright eyed and bushy tailed at the office, but knowing you will be red-eyed, incredibly depressed and desperately tired.
Grant Hackett's former coach Denis Cotterell is adamant that Stilnox cost him a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. He was carrying the heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders, no swimmer had ever won the same event at three successive Olympics, and it was expected that he would be written into the history books.
There are two conflicting accounts of what happened to Hackett in the final. According to Cotterell, he began to panic when he got to Beijing because his speed times had deserted him. "He couldn't sleep so he took Stilnox to settle his nerves" Cotterell said. "For sure that contributed to his lack of clarity in the 1500m final, I've got no doubts about that."
But another source said that Hackett's poor performance was the fault of team officials who banned him from using Stilnox after he began sleepwalking around the Olympic village. So was Hackett hung over from the effects of the drug or simply shattered from being deprived of his sleeping pill?
The champion swimmer said he was given the drug by officials, but always under the supervision of a team doctor or GP. He admits he overused Stilnox and eventually became heavily reliant on them. "At one point they scared me" Hackett said "They're evil."
Not according to an anonymous elite NRL player who was appalled that the Olympic committee has banned the drug just weeks out from the Olympics. He said he and a lot of other NRL players take Stilnox. "After a big game with all the adrenalin and energy drinks and the emotion that comes with it, I can be staring at the ceiling until 6 o'clock in the morning. It's impossible to get a good nights sleep without Stilnox and your whole week can be thrown out."
Another NRL top player said "They are fantastic, the great thing about Stilnox is that you don't get that hung over affect, it just puts you to sleep, that's why they are so great."
Rightly or wrongly, Australian athletes at the London games will be banned from using Stilnox or other drugs like it.