10 Scary Side Effects Of Sleeping Pills

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

Prescription and over-the-counter sleeping pills can be effective for solving your occasional bout with insomnia. However, even when used properly, these drugs may have some unpleasant or even harmful side effects. Learn more about the potential side effects of sleeping pills and how to avoid them.


One of the main complaints among those who take sleeping pills is something called “the hangover effect.” This is essentially a hangover-like feeling that may include symptoms like drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, nausea and an overall lack of clear-mindedness. Those experiencing a sleeping pill hangover may also have trouble waking up in the morning. To avoid this side effect, take the drugs exactly according to your doctor’s instructions. If the symptoms persist, ask your doctor about switching to a lower dosage.

Sleep Behaviors

When taking sleeping pills, it’s important to avoid any activities that require concentration while the pills are in effect, such as driving. However, some people taking these pills have experienced sleep behaviors that happen without them realizing it, such as sleep-eating, sleep-walking and even sleep-driving. Since this side effect happens without the person realizing it, it’s one side effect that is essentially out of your control. The good news is that it is a relatively rare side effect among sleeping pill users.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Some sleeping pill users also experience bouts of gastrointestinal discomfort when using these medications. This may include symptoms like diarrhea or nausea. Taking your medications exactly as prescribed may help with this issue. If not, try cutting back on your use or switching your prescription.

Allergic Reaction

Although it is one of the rarer side effects, some people experience an allergic reaction to sleeping pills. In some cases, this can be a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or severe facial swelling (angioedema). This can cause breathing problems and can even be life-threatening. It’s particularly important to be aware of this since it may be hard to notice an allergic reaction as you’re falling asleep. Pay close attention to the ingredients in your medications and consult with your doctor if you’ve had allergic reactions in the past.


Sometimes, your body can become so used to the effects of sleeping pills that it starts to become unaffected by them. This can often happen with over-the-counter sleeping pills since they contain antihistamines, for which your body can quickly build a tolerance. Only take sleeping pills when necessary or consider a change in prescription to avoid this side effect.


The risk of dependency on sleeping pills has decreased in recent years with the release of new and more advanced drugs. However, dependency is still possible so it’s important to avoid sleeping pill abuse. In addition, consider the fact that even when people don’t become dependent their sleeping pill use may be masking other health issues that are causing their insomnia.

The best method to prevent dependency and the avoidance of other health problems is to get a full exam before taking sleeping pills and to only take the pills when needed. You can also try lifestyle changes to see if these help you sleep better at night, such as finding outlets for stress or not eating near bedtime.


With sleeping pills, your body can quickly become accustomed to the way the drugs help you fall asleep. Those who use the pills regularly and then stop abruptly may experience withdrawal symptoms, including unusual dreams, anxiety, nausea or vomiting. Stop your sleeping pill use gradually to avoid this side effect.


Some studies have linked the use of sleeping pills to an increased risk of cancer. In the study, those who were taking higher doses had the most risk increase. Additionally, other studies have found that taking sleeping pills may increase the risk of esophageal cancer for those with heartburn since the pills were allowing them to sleep through bouts of acid reflux. To avoid this side effect, don’t take a higher dosage than you need. In addition, those with acid reflux should talk to their doctor before taking any type of sleeping pill.


Though the link isn’t clear yet, some studies have found that those who take sleeping pills are about four times as likely to die as those who don’t. The risk is slightly increased or decreased depending on how many pills were prescribed per year, with those receiving more pills having a great risk of death. Though it isn’t clear whether the risk of death can be attributed to sleeping pills, the results are significant enough to make many people think twice about taking sleeping pills.

Those who are already taking sleeping pills should consider these side effects and take steps to avoid them. If you’re thinking about taking sleeping pills, talk to your doctor first about all of the possible side effects.


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