Are Sleeping Pills Safe To Use?

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

Getting a good night’s rest can make or break your day, so it’s no wonder that millions of people have used sleeping pills at one time or another. But are these pills safe for use, especially when they are utilized regularly? In this article, we’ll go over the latest studies on sleeping pills and explain the possible health risks of using them.

Types Of Sleeping Pills

There are two main types of sleeping pills: over-the-counter and prescription medications. Over-the-counter sleeping pills are typically considered safe for occasional use. Most of these contain antihistamines to help induce a sleep feeling. However, they tend to be less effective the longer you take them. If you’re looking for more information on over-the-counter sleep aids, read Using A Melatonin Supplement As A Sleep Aid.

Prescription sleeping pills, on the other hand, come in many varieties and are tend to have a stronger effect. In addition, many people are more likely to become reliant on prescription sleeping pills as opposed to ones purchased over the counter. The following are some of the main types of drugs used to create prescription sleeping pills (common brand names are noted in parentheses):

  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Ramelteon (Rozerem)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Estazolam
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Doxepin (Silenor)

While certain prescription sleeping pills are intended to help you fall asleep, others are meant to help you stay asleep through the night. Talk to your doctor about your sleeping habits if you aren’t sure which type of pill would work better for you.

Possible Side Effects

When taking sleeping pills, it’s important to consider the possible symptoms which may result from taking those medications. The potential side effects of prescription sleeping pills include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Allergic reaction
  • Memory and performance deficiency during the day
  • Extended sleepiness or drowsiness, also called “the hangover effect”
  • Sleep behaviors, like sleep-eating or sleep-driving
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhea or nausea

Health Risks

It’s not just the side effects that you have to think about when taking sleeping pills. In fact, there are some potential long-term health risks that may make you think twice before using this type of medication.

Recently, some studies have found that sleeping pills appear to be linked to an increased risk of death. In fact, one study found that prescription sleeping pill users were about four times more likely to die than those who did not take prescription sleeping pills. This statistic applied even to those who were prescribed less than 20 pills per year. In addition, that same study found that those who were taking higher doses of sleeping pills were more likely to develop cancer.

While it’s important to keep in mind that these studies don’t prove that sleeping pills directly caused death or cancer, it’s something very important to think about before getting a prescription for these types of medications.

Tips For Safe Use

If you do wish to take sleeping pills despite the health risks, talk to your doctor to determine which prescription or over-the-counter product will work best for you. In addition, keep these tips for safe use in mind:

  • Stop taking sleeping pills gradually. If you’ve grown accustomed to taking sleeping pills regularly, then suddenly stopping may produce withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, nausea, vomiting or unusual dreams.
  • Avoid forming a habit. Try to take sleeping pills only when necessary. Many of the prescription drugs are habit-forming, and taking over-the-counter drugs regularly can lead to them becoming ineffective due to increased tolerance.
  • Avoid alcohol. Never drink alcohol when taking sleeping pills as this increases the sedative effects of the pills.
  • Don’t try other activities. Don’t attempt to do anything that requires alertness, such as driving, when taking sleeping pills.
  • Ask your doctor about conflicting health issues. People with certain health conditions are considered to be unsuitable for sleeping pill use. If you have asthma, liver problems, urinary retention, closed-angle glaucoma, depression, alcohol abuse issues, lung disease, kidney problems, respiratory problems, sleep apnea or are pregnant or breast-feeding, be sure to ask your doctor if sleeping pills are safe for you to take.


There are plenty of ways to get better sleep without using sleeping pills. For many people, the following tactics may help them to get a better night’s sleep without having to use medication:

  • Go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day to create a consistent schedule.
  • Don’t take naps unless you need them, and try not to nap after 3pm.
  • Avoid eating close to bed time; make sure all large meals are finished at least 2 hours before going to bed.
  • Don’t exercise within two hours of going to bed.
  • Avoid nicotine, alcohol and caffeine about 4-6 hours before bedtime.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet; adjust the temperature to make yourself more comfortable in bed.
  • Try to create a bedtime routine where you do something quiet like read or listen to soothing music for about 30 minutes before going to sleep.
  • Try valerian supplements. However, keep in mind that these may have side effects like headaches or heart disturbances.

For more tips on how to get a better night’s rest, check out 6 Tips To Sleeping Better At Night.

Bottom Line

Sleeping pills can be an effective solution for occasional insomnia, but taking them regularly can result in a host of unpleasant side effects and health risks. Consider trying other methods to adjust your sleeping habits before turning to sleeping pills, and always talk to your doctor before taking any sleep-aid medications.


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