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What are the Different Types of Sleeping Medications?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated Jan 30, 2024
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There are several different types of prescription and over-the-counter sleeping medications. Some sleeping medications work by helping the person to fall asleep. Other medications both help someone get to sleep and stay asleep. Several antidepressants are widely taken in low doses to relieve insomnia, although this use is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. A variety of sleeping medications are considered to be natural remedies. All sleeping medications should be taken with caution after a medical evaluation, and the patient must be watchful for any side effects or signs of dependency.

Sleeping pills are generally medications that depress the central nervous system. This creates a feeling of decreased anxiety, sleepiness, and relaxation. Long-term use of many sleep aids could result in dependency.

Several prescription sleeping medications can help a person to fall asleep. Eszopiclone is a common choice, but may not be appropriate for people who have a history of abusing alcohol or drugs. Zolpidem is another option, but can become increasingly ineffective after two weeks. Triazolam and zaleplon can both be habit forming.

Sometimes staying asleep is the root of a person’s insomnia. Estazolam can interact with other medications and may not be appropriate for pregnant women, but it can help stop someone from waking up too soon. Another typical medication in this category is temazepam, but it can trigger or worsen depression in individuals with a history of this mental illness.

Certain antidepressants are occasionally prescribed in low doses because they can have a sedating effect. Additionally, they may improve any symptoms of anxiety or depression as well as insomnia. Common medications of this type include amitriptyline, trazodone, and doxepin. These medications can interact with monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

There is a variety of natural remedies for sleeplessness. The herb valerian is sold throughout Europe as an over-the-counter insomnia treatment. Melatonin is useful when an individual’s natural sleep cycle has been disrupted by stress or travel. Another popular supplement for insomnia is kava, but this herb has been associated with an increased risk of severe liver damage.

Dizziness, headache, and facial swelling are all possible side effects of sleeping medications. Other potential side effects include digestive problems and drowsiness after waking. Some individuals can experience a serious allergic reaction to sleeping medications.

As with any medication, there are risks associated with sleeping pills. Many sleeping pills can react with other medications and herbal supplements, and some can even be habit forming. People with liver or kidney disease, a tendency to abuse alcohol, or who are pregnant or breast feeding should consult a medical professional prior to taking any sleeping medications.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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