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Prescription Sleeping Aids: What You Need to Know

Prescription Sleeping Aids: What You Need to Know

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that affects an estimated 30% of adults in the United States. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, anxiety, depression, and medical conditions.

There are a number of prescription sleeping aids available to help people with insomnia fall asleep and stay asleep. These medications work by different mechanisms, but they all have the same goal: to improve sleep quality.

Prescription sleeping aids may include benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics, melatonin receptor agonists, and orexin receptor antagonists. Each class of medication may have a distinct mechanism of action, influencing neurotransmitters or receptors involved in the sleep-wake cycle. It is crucial for individuals with insomnia to consult with a healthcare professional before initiating any prescription sleeping aid. A thorough evaluation helps identify the underlying causes of insomnia, allowing for the selection of the most suitable and effective treatment option based on individual circumstances. While prescription medications can be beneficial for managing insomnia, non-pharmacological approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) and lifestyle modifications are also recommended to address the root causes and promote long-term improvements in sleep patterns.

Types of Prescription Sleeping Aids

The most common types of prescription sleeping aids are:

  • Benzodiazepines: These medications work by slowing down the central nervous system, which can help to promote sleep. Examples of benzodiazepines include temazepam (Restoril), triazolam (Halcion), and diazepam (Valium).
  • Z-drugs: These medications are also known as non-benzodiazepines. They work in a similar way to benzodiazepines, but they have a shorter half-life, which means they are less likely to cause next-day drowsiness. Examples of Z-drugs include zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zaleplon (Sonata).
  • Orexin receptor antagonists: These medications work by blocking the action of orexin, a neurotransmitter that is involved in wakefulness. The only orexin receptor antagonist currently available is suvorexant (Belsomra).
  • Antidepressants: Some antidepressants, such as amitriptyline and trazodone, can also be used to treat insomnia. These medications work by increasing the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, which can help to promote sleep.

How to Choose a Prescription Sleeping Aid

The best prescription sleeping aid for you will depend on your individual needs and medical history. Your doctor will consider factors such as the severity of your insomnia, your age, and your other medical conditions when choosing a medication for you.

It is important to note that prescription sleeping aids are not a long-term solution for insomnia. They should only be used for short-term relief of symptoms. If you have chronic insomnia, your doctor will work with you to develop other treatment strategies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or lifestyle changes.

Regular communication with your healthcare provider is essential throughout the treatment process. This allows for ongoing assessment of the effectiveness of the chosen approach, making adjustments as needed, and exploring additional strategies to address the root causes of insomnia and promote sustained improvements in sleep quality.

Side Effects of Prescription Sleeping Aids

All prescription sleeping aids have the potential to cause side effects. Some of the most common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Next-day hangover
  • Memory problems
  • Changes in mood
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you experience any of these side effects, talk to your doctor. They may be able to adjust your dosage or switch you to a different medication.


Prescription sleeping aids can be an effective way to improve sleep quality for people with insomnia. However, it is important to use them safely and under the supervision of a doctor. If you are considering taking a prescription sleeping aid, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits.

Here are some additional tips for using prescription sleeping aids safely:

  • Take the medication only as directed by your doctor.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take other medications that can cause drowsiness while taking a prescription sleeping aid.
  • Be aware of the side effects of the medication and report any problems to your doctor.
  • Do not stop taking the medication without talking to your doctor first.

If you are experiencing insomnia, talk to your doctor. They can help you determine the best course of treatment for you.

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