Medications For Sleep Sleep Medication Benefits And Sleep Medication Side Effects

For many people, using a sleep medication can be an effective way to catch some z’s. However, if you’re having a hard time sleeping, you’ll need to consider some potentially serious underlying medical issues before taking any kind of sleep aid. Other important considerations include determining the type of sleep medication that will work best, the potential sleep medication side effects and the possible drug interactions between the new medications for sleep and any existing drugs you take.

Included below is a list of sleep medication pros and cons to help you determine if using a sleep aid is right for you.

Consider the Pros of Sleep Medications

Sleep medication benefits can outweigh many downsides, provided you choose the best sleep medication for your particular needs. Sleep medications can:

  1. Provide much-needed sleep in extraordinary circumstances. Using a sleep medication can be a very effective way to get some much-needed rest when your body is working outside of its normal routine. For example, people who travel across several time zones often find it helpful to take a sleep aid to enable them to adjust to their new schedule with minimal fatigue. A person who has recently undergone a medical procedure may also find it useful to take a sleep medication to provide his body with ample rest. Medications for sleep may also be effective at the beginning of long-term insomnia treatment, to help the patient make up for a considerable lack of sleep.
  2. Act as double-duty medications. Many sleep medications not only provide rest, they also treat other conditions, such as depression and anxiety. For people taking these double-duty medications, the drug may actually help treat the underlying cause of the sleeplessness while also providing symptom relief.  Similarly, many OTC (“over-the-counter”) sleep aids are antihistamines, so they may also help treat allergies, hay fever and common cold symptoms.

In addition, prescription sleep medications fall under FDA regulation. However, many unregulated natural or herbal sleep aids are currently available on the market, and while these options may be cheaper and easier to access, they may not be safer. Because prescription medications for sleep are regulated by the FDA, manufacturers are required to run several clinical trials on each drug. Standardized requirements for labeling and packaging also help people determine the correct indications, dosage and side effects.

If you do opt for prescription medications for sleep, you’ll have the benefit of physician guidance. Working with a health care professional to treat your sleeplessness can ensure maximum benefit and safety. Specifically, these practitioners can discuss various kinds of sleep medications with you–such as those that help you fall asleep, those that help you stay asleep and those that alter the kind of sleep you get–to ensure that you are taking the best sleep medication for you.  If needed, a more thorough sleep study can be conducted to evaluate your condition. They can also help you avoid drug interactions and monitor potential side effects.  Furthermore, working with your physician when you decide to stop taking the medication can help prevent withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating and shaking, by helping you taper your use.

Evaluate the Cons of Sleep Medications

Despite the obvious sleep medication benefits, sleep aids do have some drawbacks. Potential downsides include:

  1. Sleep medication side effects. Sleep medications pack a more powerful punch than your glass of warm milk, but this effectiveness also comes with the potential for side effects.  Sleep medications have been associated with several side effects, including: dizziness, facial swelling, headache, severe allergic reaction, constipation, muscle aches and confusion. In addition, the FDA issued a warning in March 2007 that certain sleep medications cause strange behaviors, such as sleep walking, sleep driving and sleep eating.  Some sleep medications also leave users feeling very tired and groggy the next day. This is especially true for sleep medications that have longer half-lives, meaning the drug takes longer to be eliminated from the body.
  2. Dependence and withdrawal. All sleep medications have the potential to cause dependence in users, although in many cases, this dependence is psychological rather than physical. This risk can be minimized by taking certain types of sleeping medications, such as ones that act on the brain’s histamine receptors (such as diphenhydramine) or ones that stimulate the brain’s melatonin receptors (such as ramelteon). The tricyclic antidepressants have also shown a lower risk of dependence, but this class of drugs may have unwanted, significant side effects.
  3. Drug interactions. Combining sleep medications with other drugs can be very dangerous. For example, trazodone, a sedating antidepressant that is often prescribed as a sleep aid, interacts with warfarin, a drug used to prevent blood clots. According to the Mayo Clinic (2009), other sleep medications that interact with many drugs include triazolam, estazolam, temazepam, amitriptyline and doxepin. Additionally, certain patient populations–such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, people with depression and people with substance abuse disorders–cannot take many (or in some cases, any) medications for sleep.
  4. Masking the underlying issue. Taking a sleep aid will help treat the symptom of sleeplessness but it won’t do anything to treat the underlying cause of the insomnia. Thus, sleep experts recommend that people wishing to take a sleep medication should also work on their sleep behaviors. This may include avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol four to six hours before bed, as well as making the bedroom peaceful and quiet. Creating a consistent sleep schedule is also helpful, as is using the bed only for sleeping. Exercise is a good way to burn off extra energy, but exercising too close to bedtime can exacerbate one’s sleeping problems. Studies have also shown that cognitive behavioral therapy–a method of changing destructive, negative thoughts into more positive and productive ones–can be a very effective long-term treatment for insomnia.


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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Health. (2006). In brief: Your guide to healthy sleep. Retrieved June 11, 2011, from