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Understanding the Side Effects of Sleeping Pills

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Between a third and half of all Americans have insomnia and complain of poor sleep. Perhaps you're one of them. If so, you may be considering taking a sleeping pill.

A sleeping pill may be effective at ending your sleep problems short-term. But it's important to make sure you understand everything you need to know about sleeping pills. That includes knowing about sleeping pill side effects. When you do, you can avoid misusing these sedatives.

What Are Sleeping Pills?

Most sleeping pills are "sedative hypnotics." That's a specific class of drugs used to induce and/or maintain sleep. Sedative hypnotics include benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and various hypnotics.

Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Librium are anti-anxiety medications. They also increase drowsiness and help people sleep. While these drugs may be useful short-term, all benzodiazepines are potentially addictive.

Barbiturates, another drug in this sedative-hypnotic class, depress the central nervous system and can cause sedation. Short- or long-acting barbiturates are prescribed as sedatives or sleeping pills. But more commonly, these hypnotic drugs are limited to use as anesthesia.

Newer medications help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. These sleep-inducing drugs, including Lunesta, Sonata, and Ambien, are somewhat less likely than are benzodiazepines to be habit-forming. They work quickly to increase drowsiness and sleep. Rozerem acts differently from other sleep medicines and is not habit-forming. Belsomra is another unique sleep aid called an orexin receptor antagonist.

Halcion is an older sedative-hypnotic medicine that has largely been replaced by newer medicines.

What Are the Side Effects of Sleeping Pills?

Sleeping pills have side effects like most medications. You won't know, though, whether you will experience side effects with a particular sleeping pill until you try it.

Your doctor may be able to alert you to the possibility of side effects if you have asthma or other health conditions. Sleeping pills make you breathe more slowly and less deeply. That can be dangerous for people with uncontrolled lung problems such as asthma or COPD.

Common side effects of prescription sleeping pills such as Lunesta, Sonata, Ambien, Rozerem, and Halcion may include:

It's important to be aware of possible sleeping pill side effects so you can stop the drug and call your doctor immediately to avoid a more serious health problem.

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