Are sleeping pills a good idea?
Michael J. Breus, PhD, ABSM
Sleep Disorders, WebMD Medical Expert
American Board of Sleep Medicine
It depends upon the reason that you are using them and it depends on how they’ve been prescribed for you. There are several different groups of sleeping pills. There are old-school benzodiazepine hypnotic sleeping pills. These are pills that would just knock you out. These pills affect your sleep architecture, and they won't allow you to get into deep sleep. What they do is they put you into light sleep and when you wake up, you slept, but you don’t feel particularly great. Also, the old-school benzodiazepine hypnotics have very long half-lives. And so what ends up happening is you’re groggy the next day. I’m not a big fan of those unless you have a severe case of chronic insomnia, and those may be the only things that help you fall asleep.
The newer medications are the non-benzodiazepine hypnotics. These are a little bit different, because they don’t affect your sleep architecture at all. You’ll get just as much deep sleep taking one of those as you normally would. But you want to get one with a shorter half-life so that it exits your system faster, and you want to only use the drug as prescribed. What we’re finding is that for a lot of people, if one works, then after a week or two it doesn’t work. Then maybe you feel you need two pills, and so on. That’s not a great idea. You should only use medication as prescribed by your health care provider, and if one isn’t working, you need to let your doctor know.