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decision pointShould I take sleeping pills for insomnia?

Insomnia can be caused by other conditions such as stress, menopause, depression, anxiety, or old age. Sleep problems like sleep apnea, addictions like alcoholism, and using too much caffeine can also cause insomnia. After you and your doctor have treated other health problems leading to your insomnia, there are many steps you can take to break the cycle of sleeping poorly and feeling tired during the day. One of these steps may be to take sleeping pills.

Consider the following when making your decision:

  • Sleeping pills may quickly relieve the symptoms of insomnia.
  • Sleep medicines work best and are safest as a short-term treatment combined with lifestyle changes.
  • You can try sleeping pills for a short time while you work on the problems that are causing your insomnia.
  • Some sleep medicines have side effects, such as daytime drowsiness and nausea.
  • Sleeping pills may not work as well when your body gets used to the medicines.
  • You can become addicted to some types of sleeping pills if you take them for more than a few weeks.
  • You may have withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the medicines.
  • Lifestyle and behavior changes can work as well as or better than medicines in helping you fall asleep and stay asleep.

What is insomnia?

People with insomnia have problems falling asleep or staying asleep. You may wake up during the night or wake up too early the next morning. Without enough sleep, you may feel sleepy during the day. This can make you more likely to have an accident, and it also makes driving dangerous. You may feel grumpy from lack of sleep. Some people have trouble remembering things, don't get as much done, and don't enjoy being with family and friends. Some people use caffeine to help them get over feeling tired, but this may make their insomnia worse.

Insomnia is a common problem that affects almost everyone at some point. Having trouble sleeping from time to time is often linked to short-term stress. It can last for days to weeks. It often gets better in less than a month.

But insomnia can turn into a long-term sleep problem, especially when you worry about not sleeping well. This is called chronic insomnia. It is often a symptom of another health problem, such as depression or chronic pain. Chronic insomnia is less common than short-term sleep problems.

How can sleeping pills help?

Sleep medicines may provide fast relief from the symptoms of insomnia. They can help you break the cycle of poor sleep quality and daytime fatigue while you work on the problems that are causing your insomnia. Sleeping pills can also be helpful when you just have trouble now and then falling asleep. But they work best as a short-term treatment.

There are different types of sleeping pills. Talk to your doctor about your choices.

What are the risks of taking sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills do not work as well over time as do lifestyle and behavior changes, such as getting more exercise and changing your sleep environment, your schedule, or what and when you eat and drink. Sleeping pills can also become habit-forming. You may come to rely on them so much that you can't sleep without them.

When you take sleeping pills, you may have side effects such as feeling anxious or sick to your stomach (nauseated) or feeling sleepy or drowsy during the day.

Medicine works best and is safest as a short-term treatment combined with lifestyle changes. In the long run, lifestyle changes are the most helpful treatment for insomnia.

If you need more information, see the topic Insomnia.

Your choices are:

  • Treat health problems leading to your insomnia to see if the insomnia goes away.
  • Treat your insomnia with lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise and changing your sleep environment, your schedule, or what and when you eat and drink.
  • Take sleeping pills for a short time while you work on the problems that are causing your insomnia.

The decision whether to take sleeping pills takes into account your personal feelings and the medical facts.

Deciding about taking sleeping pills

Reasons to take sleeping pills

Reasons to not take sleeping pills

  • You have sleepless nights once in a while.
  • You have made changes in your behavior and lifestyle and have treated the medical problems that are causing your insomnia, but the changes haven't helped.
  • Insomnia is increasing your risk of an accident.

Are there other reasons you might want to take sleeping pills?

  • You have not yet tried to make behavior and lifestyle changes or to treat the medical problems that may be causing your insomnia.
  • You are concerned about the side effects of sleeping pills.
  • You are concerned that you will grow to rely on the pills so much that you can't sleep without them.

Are there other reasons you might not want to take sleeping pills?

These personal stories may help you make your decision.

Use this worksheet to help you make your decision. After completing it, you should have a better idea of how you feel about taking sleeping pills. Discuss the worksheet with your doctor.

Circle the answer that best applies to you.

I have made changes in my behaviors and lifestyle, but the changes have not helped. Yes No Unsure
I am concerned about the side effects of sleeping pills. Yes No Unsure
I have very few nights of insomnia. Yes No Unsure
I have many nights when I am not able to go to sleep or stay asleep. Yes No Unsure
I am sleepy during the day, so I am not able to do my job well. Yes No Unsure
I am worried that if I start taking sleeping pills, I will start to rely on them. Yes No Unsure
I have insurance, so I am not worried about paying for sleeping pills. Yes No NA*

*NA=Not applicable

Use the following space to list any other important concerns you have about this decision.

 

 

 

 

 

What is your overall impression?

Your answers in the above worksheet are meant to give you a general idea of where you stand on this decision. You may have one overriding reason to take or not take sleeping pills.

Check the box below that represents your overall impression about your decision.

Leaning toward taking sleeping pills

 

Leaning toward NOT taking sleeping pills

         
Author Ralph Poore
Editor Katy E. Magee, MA
Associate Editor Michele Cronen
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine
Last Updated January 4, 2010

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 04, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or other conditions affecting your sleep.

Sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping, have insomnia, or have other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep, since sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep because sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping or have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's important to keep your bedtime and routine consistent every night and wake up around the same time every morning.

Click here to read more about the importance of sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep this amount, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep longer, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's also important to keep bedtime consistent and wake up around the same time every morning.

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and waking up at the same time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia, another sleep disorder, or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or another sleep disorder or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Effect of short sleep duration on daily activities--United States, 2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2011; 60:239.

Carskadon, MA, Dement, WC. Normal Human Sleep: An Overview. In: Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine, Fifth, Kryger, MH, Roth, et al. (Eds), Elsevier Saunders, St. Louis, MO 2011. p.16.

Harvard University: "Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety."

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