Medications for Sleep: A Brief Overview
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Medications for Sleep: A Brief Overview


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of Americans do not get enough sleep each night (“enough,” in this case, means 7 hours or more per night).


For those who consistently struggle with poor sleep, certain prescription medications can help to improve sleep quality and quantity. Answered below are some of the commonly asked questions regarding medications for sleep.



Table of Contents

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What are sleeping medications?
Will sleeping pills help my anxiety?
Will sleeping pills help my depression?
When do sleeping pills not work?
Can sleeping pills affect my health?
Can I take sleeping pills while pregnant?
Sleeping pills that don’t cause groggy side effects?
What are common natural remedies and supplements for sleep?
Who prescribes sleeping medication?



What Are Sleeping Medications?


Sleeping medications are drugs that are meant to induce sleep, particularly in those who struggle with insomnia. They’re also referred to as hypnotics, sleep aids, sedatives, and tranquilizers.


Several different types of drugs can be used as sleep medications, including the following:



Although antidepressants were originally developed to treat depression, some varieties have been shown to cause drowsiness. Because of this, physicians will sometimes prescribe them to people with insomnia.


This is technically an example of off-label drug use because antidepressants have not been approved by the FDA for insomnia treatment. However, many people who struggle with depression also struggle with poor sleep (according to this study published by Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, approximately three-quarters of patients with depression also have insomnia symptoms), so these drugs can serve a dual purpose in many cases.



Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs. They act as depressants, which means they lower brain activity, and are often prescribed to those struggling with anxiety and insomnia.


Because benzodiazepines reduce brain activity, they can be beneficial to those who have anxiety or high levels of stress that make it hard for them to fall asleep or stay asleep.


Z Drugs

According to this report published by Drugs R D, Z drugs are sleep medications that were introduced in the 1990s. They have only been approved by the FDA to treat insomnia. Examples of Z drugs include Zopiclone (brand name Imovane), eszopiclone (brand name Lunesta), zaleplon (brand name Sonata), and zolpidem (brand name Ambien).



Will Sleeping Pills Help My Anxiety?


For some people, taking sleeping medications can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety, such as shakiness or feelings of agitations, before bed. This, in turn, can make it easier for them to re-establish healthy sleeping patterns and get more much-needed rest.


Sleeping medications may help those whose anxiety symptoms prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep. It’s important to note, though, that they don’t necessarily cure anxiety.


These medications provide short-term relief and relaxation. However, it’s still important to take other measures, such as working with a trained therapist, to address the underlying causes of anxiety.



Will Sleeping Pills Help My Depression?


Certain medications, like antidepressants, may help to minimize depression symptoms while also improving sleep quality and combating insomnia.


Some research, such as this study published by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, also shows that combining an SSRI (short for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, a type of antidepressant) with a Z-drug like Lunesta, can result in a higher health-related quality of life. This includes reduced depression symptoms and fewer sleep challenges.


Sleeping Pills



When Do Sleeping Pills Not Work?


People with treatment-resistant insomnia may find that sleep pills do not help them. According to this report from the American Journal of Medicine, treatment-resistant insomnia is generally defined as insomnia that persists for 3 to 6 months even with the use of medication.


Those who aren’t finding relief from sleeping pills may need to focus on other management techniques, such as talk therapy, which can help to reduce anxiety and other issues that could be impeding sleep.


They may also need to work with their doctor to address lifestyle factors that affect sleep, such as the use of certain medications and unhealthy habits like smoking.



Can Sleeping Pills Affect My Health?


As is the case with any medication, sleeping pills do come with certain side effects.


Antidepressants can cause digestive problems, headaches, a reduced appetite, and reduced sex drive, for example, and benzodiazepines can cause drowsiness, lightheadedness, and memory problems. They can also be habit-forming and cause withdrawal symptoms if one stops taking them abruptly.


As for Z-drugs like Ambien and Lunesta, they can interfere with normal breathing patterns and may be dangerous for those with respiratory problems like asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). They can also cause grogginess, appetite changes, dizziness, digestive issues, and memory problems.




Can I Take Sleeping Pills While Pregnant?


Between 66 and 94 percent of women report sleep disturbances during pregnancy, according to this study published by Obstetric Medicine. However, it’s not recommended for them to take prescription sleep aids while pregnant.


Over-the-counter medications like Tylenol PM (a combination of acetaminophen and Benadryl), on the other hand, are typically considered safe when used sparingly.



Sleeping Pills That Don’t Cause Groggy Side Effects?


Most sleep aids, particularly Z-drugs, include grogginess as a side effect or can cause grogginess.


Antidepressants may cause drowsiness or fatigue during the early weeks of treatment. However, these feelings often subside as one gets used to the medication, so they may be a better choice for those who want to avoid grogginess long-term.


For those who want to avoid this feeling when they wake up in the morning, it’s important to engage in certain practices when using sleep medications. This includes taking them early enough in the evening to ensure at least 7-8 hours of sleep before waking up in the morning, starting with the lowest recommended dose, and not taking a second dose in the middle of the night.




What Are Common Natural Remedies and Supplements for Sleep?


There are plenty of natural remedies and supplements that can be used instead of sleep medications for those who are wary of prescription drugs. Some of the most popular options include:


  • Melatonin
  • Valerian root
  • Chamomile
  • CBD
  • GABA
  • Lavender

Some people see great success using these less-invasive sleep remedies. For those with severe insomnia, though, they may not be effective.



Who Prescribes Sleeping Medication?


Sleeping medications must be prescribed by a licensed physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or psychiatrist.


Therapists, mental health counselors, and social workers are not allowed to prescribe sleeping medication. However, their services can be used alongside these drugs to address underlying conditions that may be contributing to poor sleep.





Brandt, J., & Leong, C. (2017). Benzodiazepines and Z-drugs: an updated review of major adverse outcomes reported on in epidemiologic research. Drugs in R&D17(4), 493-507.


Centers for Disease Control. 1 in 3 Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep.


McCall, W. V., Blocker, J. N., D’Agostino Jr, R., Kimball, J., Boggs, N., Lasater, B., … & Rosenquist, P. B. (2010). Treatment of insomnia in depressed insomniacs: effects on health-related quality of life, objective and self-reported sleep, and depression. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine6(4), 322-329.


Nutt, D., Wilson, S., & Paterson, L. (2008). Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience10(3), 329.


Reichner, C. A. (2015). Insomnia and sleep deficiency in pregnancy. Obstetric medicine8(4), 168-171.





Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives. We do this through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. Inspired by this, we write content for your own education. Also, our content is researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals.  However, the information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Additionally, it should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.