Sleeping Pill Safety: 10 Dos and Don'ts
Follow these guidelines if you take an over-the-counter or prescription sleep medicine.
4. Do report side effects to your doctor.
If you struggle with feeling sleepy, groggy, or dizzy during the day, ask
your doctor if you need to change your dosage or taper off a sleep drug. Tell
your physician about other problems, too. Prescription sleeping pills can cause
side effects, including dizziness, prolonged drowsiness, headache, bloating,
nausea, abdominal pain, constipation, and rarely, severe allergic reactions or
Over-the-counter sleep aids may prompt side effects, too. For example,
diphenhydramine, a antihistamine commonly used in drug store sleep aids, can
cause dizziness, memory problems, and prolonged drowsiness that lingers into
the following day.
Who's at greater risk for side effects? Older patients, as well as people
with medical conditions or people who take other drugs, says Margaret H.
Tomecki, Pharm.D., FAPhA, senior manager of practice development and research
at the American Pharmacists Association. "These individuals should talk with
their pharmacist or doctor prior to trying any products for insomnia," Tomecki
5. If you have persistent insomnia, do improve your sleep with lifestyle changes or cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Sleep medications can work wonders for short-term insomnia that stems from
stress, jet lag, illness, or other temporary problems.
In contrast, some patients use the drugs for chronic insomnia that can last
for months or even years. These patients may benefit from cognitive behavioral
therapy, Sateia says. With such treatment, a trained sleep therapist uses many
techniques, including ones to help people control negative thoughts and worries
that keep them awake.
Lifestyle changes may also improve sleep for people with insomnia. Some
sample measures: establishing a regular sleep pattern, avoiding daytime
napping, and shunning caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine for at least 4-6 hours
before sleeping, Tomecki says.
6. Don't mix over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription sleep medicines with alcohol or other drugs that depress the nervous system.
Mixing drugs could cause adverse interactions. Taking sleep aids or sleep
drugs with alcohol, even a small amount, increases the sedative effect and may
cause you to feel confused, dizzy, or faint.
"Alcohol itself disrupts the sleep cycle," Tomecki says.