In some cases, taking sleeping pills for a short time helps you get some rest, while behavior and lifestyle changes can help you over the long term. Doctors recommend taking sleep medicines only now and then or only for a short time. They are not the first choice for treating chronic insomnia.
This advice about medicines applies to everyone, but especially to older adults. Anyone can become dependent on sleep medicines, and these medicines can affect how well older people think during and after long-term use.1
Many sleep medicines cause side effects, such as low blood pressure, anxiety, and nausea. These medicines also may become less effective when your body gets used to them and may cause withdrawal symptoms when you stop using them.
Sleep medicines include:
- Prescription sleep medicines, such as eszopiclone (Lunesta), ramelteon (Rozerem), zaleplon (Sonata), and zolpidem (Ambien). They are the first-choice medicines for short-term insomnia.
- Orexin receptor antagonists, such as suvorexant (Belsomra). These medicines block chemicals in the brain that keep you awake, helping to promote sleep.
- Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (such as Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), and quazepam (Doral). These medicines help you fall asleep or stay asleep. You need a prescription for these medicines.
- Antidepressants that have a calming or sedative effect. These can be used to help you sleep.
- Antihistamines. Typically used for allergies, these can provide short-term relief of sleeplessness.
- Nonprescription medicines for sleep. These can help, but they also can cause side effects, such as drowsiness the next day. Over time, sleeping pills may not work as well as they did when you first started using them.
To help you decide if you should use sleeping pills to treat insomnia, see:Insomnia: Should I Take Sleeping Pills?
One Man's Story:
While Cort does have a prescription for sleeping pills, he uses the medicine only when he needs to be well rested the next day, such as when he has to give a presentation at work. Cort heeds his doctor's warning about becoming dependent on sleeping pills.
"I have a prescription for 5 mg tablets, and I never take a full one. I break them in half, and I never take them more than once in 2 weeks." -Cort, 64