Tips for Taking Sleeping Pills Safely

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make it hard for someone to fall or stay asleep at night. The best way to treat chronic, or long term, insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-I).1

However, this treatment may not be available to everyone. For those people, sleeping pills may be helpful, as long as they are used safely.2

Why take a sleeping pill?

Insomnia is a common problem that happens to most people at some point in their lives.2 Getting a good night of sleep is important for physical and mental health.3

Not getting enough sleep can have serious health consequences. Lack of sleep can make it hard to manage daily tasks. Chronic insomnia can even lead to more serious health issues like depression or heart disease if left untreated. It can also increase the risk of injury due to falling or accidents.2

Taking a sleep aid can help people get the rest they need by activating sleep centers in the brain. The drugs also turn off the brain’s wake centers so you can fall asleep and stay asleep longer.1

What are the risks when taking a sleeping pill?

Prescription sleep aids slow activity in the brain. While this can be good for sleeping, it can also cause problems. Some people may experience complex sleep behaviors, these are actions someone takes when they are asleep or not fully awake.3

Sleepwalking and sleep-driving, or even taking other medications are all examples of complex sleep behaviors. It is common to not have any memory of these events in the morning. Because the person is not really awake, they are at risk of hurting themselves or others. People who experience complex sleep behaviors should not take prescription sleep aids.3

Sleep aids can also make you feel sleepy or groggy the next day. This can affect your ability to drive safely or make it harder to complete daily tasks that require attention and alertness. Hallucinations or feeling more depressed are also possible risks.

How can I take a sleeping pill more safely?

Whether they are over-the-counter or prescription, sleeping pills are drugs and they need to be taken properly in order to be used safely. Here are some tips that may help:1-3

  • Always talk to a doctor or healthcare professional before taking sleeping pills.
  • Read the package insert or medication guide that came with the sleeping pills.
  • Make sure there is enough time to get plenty of sleep, usually around 8 hours.
  • Do not take more than the prescribed dose.
  • Try to start on a night when you do not need to do anything the next day.
  • Only use sleep aids for a short period of time, about 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Do not drive after taking a sleeping pill.
  • Do not mix alcohol or other drugs with sleeping pills.
  • Stop taking the sleep aid and talk to your doctor if you have a complex sleep behavior or any other side effects.

For people who need more help falling asleep long-term, CBT-I is recommended. This is sometimes used along with sleep aids to improve sleep habits.1 Since CBT may not be readily available to all people, digital CBT programs may make it easier to get treatment. One study showed that a digital CBT program was able to help some people reduce their prescription sleep medication.4

Sleep aids may be able to help for a short period of time, but if insomnia lasts for more than a few weeks it is important to see a doctor. They will be able to help find the right treatment to help with long-term sleep issues.

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