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The Hidden Dangers of Sleeping Pills

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September 19, 2023

The Hidden Dangers of Sleeping Pills: Exploring Common Side Effects

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If you're an adult or senior who is considering taking these medications for sleep-related issues, it's important to be aware of their potential side effects and risks. Let’s explore the common side effects associated with sleeping pills, discuss risk factors and precautions, and provide alternative options that may help improve your sleep without the potential dangers. 

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Understanding Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills can offer temporary relief for insomnia, but it's important to be aware of their potential side effects.

What are sleeping pills?

Definition and Classification of Sleeping Pills:

Sleeping pills, also known as hypnotics, are medications that help individuals with insomnia or other sleep disorders to fall asleep and stay asleep. They are classified into various types based on their chemical composition and mechanism of action such as benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepines, melatonin agonists, and sedating antidepressants.

There is a wide range of sleeping pills available on the market today. Benzodiazepines such as diazepam and lorazepam act by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that slows down brain activity. Non-benzodiazepines like zolpidem and eszopiclone have similar effects but target specific GABA receptors in order to minimize potential side effects. Melatonin agonists such as ramelteon work by targeting receptors that regulate sleep-wake cycles. Sedating antidepressants like trazodone may also be prescribed off-label for their sedative properties.

Determining whether you need a sleeping pill requires careful consideration of your individual situation. If you consistently experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for an extended period without any improvement using self-help strategies, it may be worth discussing this issue with your healthcare provider. It's important to consider factors such as lifestyle habits, stress levels, underlying medical conditions including depression or anxiety disorders,and any potential allergies or sensitivities before considering taking a sleeping pill.

Common types of sleeping pills

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications commonly used as sleep aids. They work by enhancing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical in the brain that helps promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. While benzodiazepines can be effective for short-term use, they may cause side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired coordination. It is important to note that long-term use can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms.

Non-benzodiazepine sedatives, also known as Z-drugs, are another type of sleeping pill often prescribed for insomnia treatment. These medications have similar effects to benzodiazepines but with less risk of dependence. However, like benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sedatives can still cause side effects such as headache, nausea, and memory problems.

Over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids are accessible without a prescription and commonly contain antihistamines or herbal ingredients like melatonin. While OTC sleep aids may provide temporary relief for occasional insomnia episodes, they come with limitations. These include potential allergic reactions to certain ingredients or interactions with other medications being taken concurrently.

Overall bullet list:

  • Benzodiazepines: Enhance GABA activity; short-term effectiveness; possible side effects include drowsiness.
  • Non-benzodiazepine sedatives: Similar benefits to benzodiazipenes but lower risk of dependence; potential side effects include headache.
  • OTC sleep aids: Accessible without prescription; limited efficacy for occasional insomnia; caution regarding allergies or drug interactions

How do sleeping pills work?

Mechanism of action for benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines, a common class of sleeping pills, work by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. By increasing GABA activity, benzodiazepines help to reduce anxiety and induce sedation, promoting sleep.

'Z-drugs': How non-benzodiazepine sedatives affect brain activity: Non-benzodiazepine sedatives such as Zolpidem and Zopiclone target specific receptors in the brain that also enhance GABAergic signaling. This results in similar calming and hypnotic effects to benzodiazepines but with a reduced risk of dependence or tolerance.

'Natural' or herbal sleep aids: Do they really work? While some individuals may find relief from natural or herbal sleep aids like melatonin or valerian root, scientific evidence supporting their efficacy is limited. It's important to note that these remedies are not regulated like prescription medications, so quality control and potential risks such as allergic reactions or interactions with other medications should be considered before use.

Potential Side Effects of Sleeping Pills

Common side effects of sleeping pills can include drowsiness, dizziness, and headache. These symptoms are typically mild and go away on their own. However, it is important to be aware that some individuals may experience more severe side effects such as nausea, vomiting, or even allergic reactions. It is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any sleep medication to fully understand the potential risks involved.

In rare cases, serious side effects of sleeping pills may occur. These can include memory problems, confusion, or unusual behavior during sleep. Additionally, some individuals may experience an increased risk of falls or accidents due to impaired coordination or balance caused by the medication. It is essential for adults and seniors considering taking sleeping pills to weigh the benefits against these potential risks and discuss them with their healthcare provider beforehand.

Common side effects

Drowsiness, headache, and nausea are among the common side effects associated with sleeping pills. While drowsiness is often expected and can be managed by taking the medication before bedtime, it may persist into the following day for some individuals. Headaches are another potential side effect that can occur after taking sleeping pills, although they typically subside on their own. Nausea is less commonly experienced but can still occur in some cases; if this symptom persists or becomes severe, it's important to contact a healthcare professional for further guidance.

Less common but serious side effects

Memory problems can occasionally arise as a serious side effect of sleeping pills. Some individuals may experience difficulty with recalling recent events or struggle to retain new information. It's important to monitor any changes in memory function and consult a healthcare professional if concerns arise.

In rare cases, sleeping pills have been associated with the development of depression and anxiety symptoms. These mood disorders can emerge or worsen while taking sleep aids, so it's crucial to seek medical advice if these conditions become problematic.

Sleepwalking or engaging in complex activities like driving while asleep are infrequent but severe side effects that can occur when using certain sleeping pills. This type of behavior poses significant risks, both for the individual affected and others around them. If sleepwalking episodes or instances of sleep-driving are experienced, immediate medical attention is vital for appropriate assessment and guidance on alternative treatments.

Long-term side effects

Tolerance and dependence can develop with long-term use of sleeping pills, making them less effective over time and potentially leading to withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop. It is important to be aware of this potential risk before starting a prolonged course of medication.

Residual drowsiness during the day is another possible long-term side effect of sleeping pills. Even after a full night's sleep, individuals may still experience excessive daytime sleepiness, which can impact their daily functioning and overall quality of life.

Cognitive impairment, such as difficulties with memory and concentration, has also been reported as a long-term side effect of using sleeping pills. It is crucial for individuals considering these medications to weigh the benefits against the potential risks on cognitive function.

Risk Factors and Precautions

Risk Factors

1. Age: Older adults are more susceptible to experiencing side effects from sleeping pills due to slower metabolism and decreased liver function.

2. Existing medical conditions: Individuals with certain medical conditions, such as liver or kidney disease, respiratory disorders, or mental health disorders may be at a higher risk of experiencing adverse reactions from sleeping pills.


1. Consult your healthcare provider: It is crucial to discuss your sleep difficulties with a healthcare professional who can determine if taking sleeping pills is appropriate for you based on your specific circumstances.

2. Follow dosage instructions strictly: Taking more than the recommended dosage does not enhance sleep effectiveness but increases the risk of side effects. Always follow the prescribed guidelines provided by your doctor or pharmacist.

Remember, understanding these risk factors and precautions can help make an informed decision about using sleeping pills while minimizing potential harm.

Alternatives to Sleeping Pills

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia

Sleep restriction therapy, stimulus control therapy, and cognitive restructuring techniques are key components of cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia. Sleep restriction therapy involves limiting the amount of time spent in bed to match the individual's actual sleep duration, which helps to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. Stimulus control therapy focuses on creating a sleep environment that promotes relaxation and eliminates activities that can interfere with falling asleep. Cognitive restructuring techniques aim to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about sleep, helping individuals develop more positive associations with bedtime.

Sleep Reset offers a personalized sleep program that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) based strategies and text-based coaching personalized to an individual’s sleep goals and lifestyle. Sleep Reset's coaches provide daily support, which is necessary to bring about lasting behavioral changes, making it unique compared to other CBTi programs.


It is crucial to carefully consider the risks associated with taking sleeping pills before making a decision. While these medications can provide temporary relief from insomnia, they come with potential side effects that may outweigh their benefits. Factors such as dependency, daytime drowsiness, and impaired cognitive function should be taken into account when weighing the pros and cons of using sleeping pills.

Fortunately, there are alternative solutions available for improving sleep quality without relying on medication. Incorporating healthy lifestyle changes like establishing a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing exercises can significantly enhance restful sleep. Additionally, avoiding stimulants close to bedtime and creating a comfortable sleep environment can contribute to better overall sleep hygiene without the potential risks associated with sleeping pill use.

Start Sleeping Better With Sleep Reset Today!

To get started with Sleep Reset, all you need to do is take our sleep quiz! This will allow us to identify some of your key issues. After your quiz, you can choose to be assigned your own sleep coach and get our dedicated sleep app.

Your sleep coach and our app will give you the tools and the program you need to get better sleep and feel your best!