Sleeping meds meds are a common go-to when insomnia strikes, but not all pills are created equal. Some have a higher risk of dependence—both physical and psychological—and they may work better for some people than others. So before you reach for the first sleep aid you see at a drugstore, make sure you ask key questions like: How long does it take for the pill to kick in? How long does the drowsiness last? And do they have any dangerous side effects?
Standard over-the-counter sleep medicines rely on antihistamines to promote drowsiness. Examples include diphenhydramine (found in products like Nytol, Sominex and Sleepinal) and melatonin (a naturally occurring hormone that increases at night). The problem is that these drugs have sedating effects that often carry into the next day, which can lead to forgetfulness, headaches and fatigue. They can also interact with some medications, including blood pressure and diabetes drugs.
Decoding Sleeping Meds: Understanding Options for Better Sleep
Benzodiazepines are older sleeping medications that work by suppressing the part of the brain that regulates whether you’re awake or asleep. They’re known to have serious side effects such as dizziness and falls, and in rare cases can cause complex sleep behaviors (like sleep walking or driving) that can lead to injuries. Benzodiazepines have a black box warning and are a controlled substance.
Doctors often prescribe sedating antidepressants to help people sleep, such as amitriptyline (Elavil), mirtazapine (Remeron) and trazodone (Desyrel). But these medications can have side effects including memory problems, depression or anxiety, and they can lead to a rebound insomnia if you stop taking them.