Prescription sleeping pills: What's right for you?

If you're regularly having trouble either falling or staying asleep (insomnia), make an appointment with your doctor. Treatment depends on what's causing your insomnia. Sometimes, an underlying cause, such as a medical condition or sleep disorder, can be found and treated — a much more effective approach than just treating the symptom of insomnia itself.


Behavior changes learned through cognitive behavioral therapy are generally the best treatment for persistent insomnia. Sleeping on a regular schedule, exercising regularly, avoiding caffeine and daytime naps, and keeping stress in check also are likely to help. But there are times when the addition of prescription sleeping pills may help you get some much needed rest.

All prescription sleeping pills have risks, especially for people with certain medical conditions, including liver or kidney disease. Always talk with your doctor before trying a new treatment for insomnia.


Here's information on some of the most common types of prescription sleeping pills used today.



Types of prescription sleeping pills - 21


Prescription sleeping pills may help you fall asleep easier or stay asleep longer — or both. The risks and benefits of various prescription sleeping pills can differ. To find the right prescription medication to help you sleep, your doctor generally should:



Insurance companies may have restrictions on which sleeping pills are covered, and they may require that you try other approaches to your insomnia first. Prescription sleep medication options include the following.


Sleep medication

Helps you fall asleep

Helps you stay asleep

Can lead to dependence

Doxepin (Silenor)




Eszopiclone (Lunesta)

Ramelteon (Rozerem)



Temazepam (Restoril)

Triazolam (Halcion)


Zaleplon (Sonata)


Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist)


Zolpidem extended release (Ambien CR)

Suvorexant (Belsomra)



Side effects of prescription sleeping pills


Always ask your doctor about potential side effects before deciding which sleeping pills to consider taking. Depending on the type, prescription sleeping pills may include side effects such as:




Antidepressants with a sedating effect


Sometimes prescription drugs used mainly to treat depression may ease insomnia when taken in lower doses. Although widely used, these are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for insomnia. When insomnia is secondary to depression or anxiety, antidepressants may improve both conditions at the same time.


Examples include:




Side effects of antidepressants with a sedating effect


Antidepressants that have a sedating effect may include side effects such as:




Safety considerations


Prescription sleeping pills (and even some nonprescription sleeping pills) as well as certain antidepressants may not be safe if you are pregnant, breast-feeding or an older adult. Sleeping pill use may increase the risk of nighttime falls and injury in older adults. If you're an older adult, your doctor may prescribe a lower dose of medication to reduce your risk of problems.


Some health conditions — for example, kidney disease, low blood pressure, heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) or a history of seizures — may limit your options. Also, prescription drugs and over-the-counter sleep aids may interact with other medications. And taking certain prescription sleeping pills can lead to drug abuse or drug dependence, so it's important to follow your doctor's advice.



Taking sleeping pills


If your best attempts to get a good night's sleep have failed, prescription sleeping pills may be an option. Here's some advice on how to use them safely.










If you continue to have trouble sleeping, ask your doctor for additional help.


Naheed Ali, MD, FHM President & Founder

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