Sleeping Pills from the Doctor – Popular Types.

Insomnia affects every part of our waking lives when we suffer from it.  There are perhaps as many reasons for insomnia as there are people suffering from it, but getting over it is essential if we are to live a full and happy life.

In this article we’re going to look at the medications that your doctor may prescribe to help you with insomnia in the short term.

All drugs have a chemical name and a manufacturer’s name.  Several manufacturers may make the same drug and each call it different names.  These names may vary between countries so look the name up if you’re not sure. The chemical name is given here, with examples of the manufacturers’ names in brackets.

Doctors are often hesitant to prescribe sleeping pills as they can cause problems such as:

  • Drowsiness the following day which can lead to accidents
  • Accidents if you’re clumsy or confused when you wake in the night and need to get out of bed
  • Tolerance to their effects.  This means that if you take them over a long period you need to have a higher dose so that they work because your body gets used to them
  • Dependence on them.  This means addiction, which makes you have side effects if they are withdrawn suddenly.

There are different types of sleeping tablet.  Benzodiazepines, Z drugs and antihistamines are 3 of the most popular types.

Benzodiazepines include temazepam, lorazepam, flurazepam (Dalmane), lormetazepam and nitrazepam.

These drugs work by making you fall asleep more quickly and helping you stay asleep.  They affect the part of the brain that controls our emotions and also relax our muscles.

Points to remember when taking benzodiazepines:

  1. They shouldn’t be taken for more than about 4 weeks continuously.
  2. Don’t drink alcohol while you’re taking them.
  3. Don’t take them if you’re pregnant, breast feeding, have liver or kidney problems, have sleep apnea, have/have had problems with addition to drugs or alcohol, have mental health problems, have myasthenia gravis (muscle weakening disease), have porphyria (a blood disease) or have had an allergic reaction to any similar drug.
  4. Take them whole with a drink of water – don’t chew or suck them – just before bedtime.
  5. When you want to stop them, do it slowly (see below).
  6. Take them only as your doctor prescribes.
  7. Don’t take them with any other sleeping medication or herbal sleeping pill unless your doctor says it’s safe to do so.

Common side effects of benzodiazepines:

  • Drowsiness and dizziness the day after taking them
  • Muscle weakness or unsteadiness
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness.

Z drugs include zaleplon, zolpidem (Stilnoct) and zopiclone (Zimovane).  They work in a similar way to benzodiazepines.

7 points to remember while taking Z drugs:

  1. Z drugs shouldn’t be taken for more than about 4 weeks continuously.
  2. Don’t drink alcohol while you’re taking them.
  3. Don’t take them if you’re pregnant, breast feeding, have liver or kidney problems, have sleep apnea, have/have had problems with addition to drugs or alcohol, have mental health problems.
  4. Take them whole with a drink of water – don’t chew or suck them – just before bedtime.
  5. When you want to stop them, do it slowly (see below).
  6. Take them only as your doctor prescribes.
  7. Don’t take them with any other sleeping medication or herbal sleeping pill unless your doctor says it’s safe to do so.

Common side effects of Z drugs:

  • Sleepiness, dizziness, light-headedness the day after taking Z-drugs
  • A bitter or metallic taste in the mouth
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Headache
  • Hallucinations, poor memory, nightmares, feeling irritable.

If you suffer from these side effects you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Antihistamines such as promethazine (Avomine, Phenergan, Sominex) aren’t ‘proper’ sleeping meds, but have a side effect of drowsiness and may be prescribed because of this.  They may be especially useful if you have allergies that stop you from sleeping well.  However they can also cause a ‘hangover’ of drowsiness in the morning and shouldn’t be taken over a long period of time.

Points to remember when taking antihistamines:

  1. Take these meds as prescribed by your doctor.
  2. Don’t take them for more than 7 days
  3. Don’t take them if you are pregnant, breast feeding, have heart, liver or kidney problems, have glaucoma (an eye condition), have epilepsy, or have prostate problems.
  4. If you’re taking any herbal or complimentary therapies then talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking antihistamines.
  5. Take your tablet just before bedtime.
  6. Some antihistamines may cause the skin to become sensitive to the sun so use a sun block until you’re sure this isn’t happening to you.
  7. Take your meds whole (don’t chew or suck them) and with a glass of water.
  8. Don’t drink alcohol while taking these meds.

Common side effects:

  • Blurred vision, sleepiness, dizziness
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty passing water (having a pee)
  • Nausea/upset stomach.

How to safely stop taking sleeping pills.

When you want to stop taking sleeping meds, either because the problems that were causing your insomnia have passed or because your doctor has advised it, take your doctor’s advice.  This will probably include:

  1. Cut down the dose of your meds slowly.  Your doctor may change you to a different sleeping med for a short time to help you.
  2. Try to cut down when your stress levels are low.
  3. It might be a good idea to reduce and stop your sleeping pills while you’re on holiday so you’re under less stress and pressure.
  4. You may find that you have some sleeplessness while you stop.  If you expect this to happen then it should be less of a problem if it does.
  5. Use natural ways to get to sleep and look at our article on 10 ways to get to sleep.

Elspeth Raisbeck

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