Sleeping pills treat insomnia by making you feel drowsy and relaxed. Sleep aids, including natural ones like melatonin, can cause side effects. You may feel confused or sleepy during the day. Some people walk or eat in their sleep (parasomnia). Other nondrug therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are better at improving sleep.
As the name suggests, sleeping pills help you catch some sleep. People who have sleep disorders like insomnia may take these medications to help them fall asleep. Sleeping medicines can also help you stay asleep if you’re prone to waking up in the middle of the night.
Sleeping pills go by many names:
There are various types of sleeping pills. Each works differently. Some sleep aids cause drowsiness, while others silence the area of the brain that keeps you alert.
Studies show that sleeping pills aren’t that helpful in promoting a good night’s rest. Most people who take sleep aids fall asleep about eight to 20 minutes faster than those without medicine. On average, you might get an additional 35 minutes of shuteye.
Generally, sleep aids should be for short-term use. They may be most helpful if a stressful life event, such as a divorce or death in the family, is keeping you awake.
An estimated one in seven Americans have long-term insomnia. Sleep difficulties become more common as you age. Approximately one in three older people take some type of sleep medicine.
Any adult can buy OTC sleep medications at a store. OTC sleep aids often contain an antihistamine. This drug treats allergies, but it can also make you drowsy.
Some people take melatonin or valerian supplements to help them sleep. Melatonin is a hormone your body naturally produces that promotes sleep. Valerian is an herb that supposedly aids relaxation and sleep.
Although these sleep aids are easily accessible, you should check with your healthcare provider before taking them. Drugs in over-the-counter sleep aids (including supplements) can interfere with other medications or make health conditions worse.
Prescription sleeping pills are stronger than over-the-counter ones. You need a prescription from your healthcare provider to get these pills.
Types of prescription sleeping pills include:
Approximately eight out of 10 people experience a hangover effect the day after taking sleep medicine. They feel drowsy, have muddled thinking and experience dizziness or balance problems. These daytime effects can negatively impact your ability to drive, work, go to school and complete daily tasks.
Over-the-counter and prescription sleeping pills (and supplements) can cause these side effects:
When you take sleeping medicines night after night, your body may start to depend on them. When you stop the medicine, your insomnia may come back worse than before. This effect is called rebound insomnia.
If you’ve used sleep aids for a long time, talk to your healthcare provider about how to stop safely. It may take months to stop taking the pills.
You also shouldn’t mix sleep aids with other sedatives or alcohol. There’s a possibility of overdosing.
Some prescription sleep medicines may bring on parasomnia. This disruptive sleep disorder can cause dangerous behaviors while you’re still mostly asleep. People who take Z-drugs, in particular, may sleepwalk or eat, take medications, talk or even drive, all while unaware that they’re doing these things. You may appear to be awake, but your brain is not fully alert. Most people don’t remember doing these things after they wake up.
Benzodiazepines can be addictive and lead to substance abuse. To lower this risk, healthcare providers only prescribe these sleeping pills for short-term use. You’re more likely to get a prescription for Z-drugs instead.
Any medication you take while pregnant or breastfeeding passes to the baby. Check with your healthcare provider before taking any over-the-counter sleeping pills or supplements. For extreme insomnia, a provider may prescribe a short-term sleep aid.
Some parents give over-the-counter antihistamine medications to children to help them sleep. These medicines aren’t approved for sleep purposes. There’s a risk of overdosing a child.
Don’t give a child supplements like melatonin. There’s no research on their safety in children.
Currently, there are no prescription sleep medicines available for children. Changing a child’s sleep behaviors is often the best way to improve sleep.
You may want to:
You should contact your healthcare provider if you are taking sleeping pills and experience:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Staring at the clock or tossing and turning is no way to spend your nights. Still, you should talk to your healthcare provider before trying an over-the-counter sleep aid. A prescription sleeping pill may be a better choice. Often, nondrug treatments and behavioral changes are all you need for improved slumber. Your healthcare provider can figure out what’s causing your insomnia and suggest the best plan to help you rest easier.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/27/2021.
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