How to Stop Taking Sleeping Pills

Maybe you have started to notice side effects after using sleep aids for a long time. Maybe your insurance company does not want to pay for your prescription anymore. Or, maybe you want to stop spending money on over-the-counter drugs.

Whatever your reason for wanting to get off sleeping pills, do not stop cold turkey. It is safer to slowly reduce the amount you are taking over time. Even better, work with your doctor to wean yourself off sleep aids.

Withdrawal symptoms can occur if you stop taking sleeping pills quickly. Common symptoms of withdrawal include:1-4

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety, irritability
  • Shivering or sweating
  • Gastrointestinal issues

Stopping sleeping pills too quickly can cause seizures in some people.5

Slow as you go

Slowly tapering off sleeping aids gives your body time to adjust, whether you take prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) pills. There is no one formula for how long it takes to get off sleeping pills. Most people gradually reduce their dose over 2 to 4 months. Your doctor can help you create a weaning schedule based on the type and amount of drug you are taking. How long you have been taking a sleeping aid also plays a role in how long it takes to stop.3-6

Here is one common way to gradually stop taking sleeping pills:3,4,6

  • During weeks 1 and 2, take one-quarter or one-half of your usual dose each night.
  • In weeks 3 and 4, cut your dose in one-quarter or one-half again.
  • In week 5, begin taking this same small dose every other night.

Each time you reduce the amount of drug you are taking, expect to have some trouble sleeping for a few days.5

Some people need longer than 5 weeks to get off their sleep drugs. Some may need to decrease their dose every 4 weeks rather than every 2 weeks. If you have been taking sleeping pills for a long time or a large dose, it may take many months to taper off. People 65 and older may need to taper off sleeping pills differently than people ages 18 to 64.4,5

Adding CBT-I

Studies show that people who have mental support find it easier to stop taking sleeping pills. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a type of coaching that helps you get better sleep. CBT-I includes education about sleep, good sleep habits, and relaxation techniques.1

In fact, CBT-I works so well to help people with insomnia that sleep doctors recommend it over sleeping pills. This is because CBT-I teaches coping skills and good sleep habits that can be used your whole life. CBT-I has no side effects and will not interfere with other drugs you may be taking, while sleeping aids often do.3,5

What is rebound insomnia?

Rebound insomnia is the medical term for a type of insomnia that happens when someone stops taking sleeping pills too quickly. Rebound insomnia can be worse than insomnia before you started taking sleeping pills. Certain sleeping pills are more likely to cause rebound insomnia than others.

By working with your doctor and planning how to wean yourself off sleeping pills, you can reduce the chances of rebound insomnia. You can also increase your chances of success by building good sleep habits, such as:5

  • Practice healthy self-talk instead of getting anxious about sleep
  • Find ways to relax before bedtime
  • Create a consistent wind-down routine
  • Reduce exposure to TV, computers, and phone screens 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime
  • Block as much noise and light from the bedroom as possible
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
  • Get out of bed if you do not fall asleep in 20 minutes
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and foods that cause heartburn
  • Develop a regular exercise routine

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: July 2021