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Sleep Aids





Sleep Aid Medications

Misperceptions about sleep medicines — both prescription and nonprescription — seem to persist. Some prescription sleep medications have been proven highly effective and safe, while some other sleep aids such as melatonin (see glossary) and herbal remedies have gained popularity without adequate data to support their safety or effectiveness.

In considering sleep medications, it is important to work closely with your doctor, to understand your options, to be aware of potential side effects, and to know what questions to ask.

Prescription sleep medicines

Prescription sleep medicines fall into one of several classes, listed below. In determining which sleep medicines may be right for you, your doctor will take into account such factors as your medical history, your insomnia symptoms, other medications you are taking, and the way the medicine works in the body.

Types of sleep aids

NON-BENZODIAZEPINES. This is the newest class of sleep medicines. The currently available products have a short half-life, which means they are eliminated from the body quickly. Because of this, they are not likely to cause daytime sleepiness. They are also “selective,” which means they target specific receptors that are thought to be associated with sleep.

BENZODIAZEPINES. This class includes both long-acting medicines (which can linger in the body and potentially cause daytime drowsiness) and short-acting medicines (which do not stay in the bloodstream as long). Many benzodiazepines were originally formulated to treat anxiety.

(See Non-Benzodiazepines).

BARBITURATES. These sedatives are rarely prescribed anymore for insomnia, due to the risk of addiction, abuse, and overdose.

ANTIDEPRESSANTS. At times, doctors will prescribe antidepressants to promote sleep, although none of these medicines are specifically approved for this purpose.