Sleeping Pills: The Pros and Cons
Which sleeping pill is right for you? Get the pros and cons with this decision chart.
Reaching for the first sleep aid you find when insomnia hits? Not all
sleeping pills are the same. Each class of sleep aid works a bit differently
from the other, and side effects vary.
It's important to ask key questions before choosing your sleep medicine.
- How long does it take for the sleeping pill to take effect?
- How long do the effects last?
- What's the risk of becoming dependent on the sleeping pill, physically or
All sleep medicines have the potential for causing dependence. In the large
majority of cases, however, this is psychological dependence, not physical.
Talk with your doctor, and use this chart to help you decide which sleeping
pill is right for you.
How It Works
Duration of Effects
|Diphenhydramine||Acts on histamine receptors in the brain to cause
drowsiness.||4-6 hours (sleepiness may last longer)||Daytime sleepiness; confusion and difficulty urinating in
Selective GABA Medicines
- Ambien (zolpidem tartrate)
- Ambien CR (zolpidem tartrate extended release)
- Lunesta (eszopiclone)
- Sonata (zaleplon)
|Binds to a specific type of GABA receptor in the brain.||6-8 hours||Usually few. Memory disturbances, hallucinations, behavior
changes possible.||Medium (usually low)|
Sleep-Wake cycle Modifiers
|Stimulates melatonin receptors in the brain area that controls the
sleep-wake cycle.||4-6 hours||Headache, drowsiness, dizziness. Uncommonly, problems with sex
drive. Loss of menses or problems getting pregnant.||Low|
|Binds to general GABA receptors in the brain.||Varies (from 4 hours to more than 12)||Sedation, loss of muscle coordination, dizziness,
- Adapin (doxepin)
- Aventyl (nortriptyline)
- Elavil (amitriptyline)
- Pamelor (nortriptyline)
- Sinequan (doxepin)
- Trazodone (desyrel)
|Binds to multiple brain receptors including acetylcholine;
sedating.||Not well studied||Low at usual doses for insomnia. Dizziness, blurry vision,
difficulty urinating, cardiac arrhythmias possible. Trazodone can cause
prolonged, painful erections.||Low|