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Medicines for sleep

Benzodiazepines; Sedatives; Hypnotics; Sleeping pills; Insomnia - medicines; Sleep disorder - medicines

Some people may need medicines to help with sleep for a short period of time. But in the long run, making changes in your lifestyle and sleep habits is the best treatment for problems with falling and staying asleep.

Before using medicines for sleep, talk to your health care provider about treating other issues, such as:

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Over-the-Counter Sleep Medicines

Most over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping pills contain antihistamines. These medicines are commonly used to treat allergies.

While these sleep aids are not addictive, your body becomes used to them quickly. Therefore, they are less likely to help you fall asleep over time.

These medicines can also leave you feeling tired or groggy the next day and can cause memory problems in older adults.

Sleep Medicine From Your Provider

Sleep medicines called hypnotics can be prescribed by your provider to help reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep. The most commonly used hypnotics are:

Most of these can become habit-forming. Only take these medicines while under the care of a provider. You will likely be started with the lowest dose possible.

While taking these medicines:

Side effects of these medicines include:

Before taking birth control pills, cimetidine for heartburn, or medicines used to treat fungus infections, tell your provider you are also taking sleeping pills.

Other Medicines for Sleep

Some depression medicines can also be used at lower doses at bedtime, because they make you drowsy.

Your body is less likely to become dependent on these medicines. Your provider will prescribe these drugs and monitor you while you are on them.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Side effects to watch out for include:

References

Chokroverty S, Avidan AY. Sleep and its disorders. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 102.

Krystal AD. Pharmacologic treatment of insomnia: other medications. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 88.

Vaughn BV, Basner RC. Sleep disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 377.

Walsh JK, Roth T. Pharmacologic treatment of insomnia: benzodiazepine receptor agonists. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 87.

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Review Date: 4/9/2020  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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