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What are the Pros and Cons of Taking Sleeping Pills?

By A. Rohlandt
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Taken correctly, sleeping pills, of course, can induce sleep and ensure a good night's rest. Even when used correctly, however, sleeping pills can have side effects, such as the risk of physical and psychological dependency, daytime sleepiness, and various physical disturbances.

The mechanism by which sleeping pills work differs from one type to the next. Prescription sleeping pills can be broken down into two major groups: benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics (BZNs), and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics. Non-Benzodiazepine hypnotics are the most commonly prescribed sleeping tablets and are believed to be a better choice than BZNs. A well known example of a non-benzodiazepine hypnotic is Ambien®. Sleeping tablets such as Ambien® produce minimal after effects, become effective within 30 minutes, and have a half-life of around three hours.

Some sleeping pills can be purchased without a prescription. Most over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping pills cause drowsiness because of the antihistamines they contain, and antihistamine-based sleeping pills can alleviate mild insomnia but are considered to be less effective long-term. Sominex® is a well known example of an OTC sleeping pill and contains diphenhydramine. Diphenhydramine is also sold as a generic and as Benadryl® for allergy relief but is often used as a sleep aid.

One of the other advantages of taking sleeping pills is that the pills can have two effects: they can help to induce sleep and also help to sustain sleep. The duration of the effects differs, but most sleeping pills will be effective for between six and eight hours. The half-life or after effects are also an important consideration, especially when having to work the next day.

The main disadvantage of taking sleeping pills is the risk of physical or psychological dependency. There are also various side effects such as day time sleepiness, confusion, memory disturbances, headaches and dizziness, to name a few. When taken on a continual basis, they generally become less effective. This may cause the user to exceed the recommended dosage. Sleeping pills can also interact with prescription medication and aggravate certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure. OTC sleeping pills are not recommended for breastfeeding mothers, or those suffering from heart problems or glaucoma.

Experts suggest the following steps to minimize the risk of dependency when taking sleeping pills. Individuals should limit usage to the lowest dosage and not use sleeping pills continuously for longer than two to three weeks. It is also advised to stick to the recommended dosage, and choose sleeping pills with a short half-life.

Natural alternatives can also be a good choice if possible risks are a concern. Herbal sleeping pills often have less side effects and are readily available.

The Health Board 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.
Discussion Comments
By anon964554 — On Aug 05, 2014

I also want to air my views about the pros and cons of sleeping tablets. As people have said, there are many side effects that can occur when taking sleeping pill such as sleepwalking, hangover, memory issues etc. These happen when they are taken alongside other medications or with alcoholic beverages. That’s why it is essential to follow the prescribed dosage and without combining with any other medication.

Instead of taking this medication regularly, you can also consider ways to induce sleep normally so that you get back to the natural pattern of going to sleep.

By KoiwiGal — On Feb 01, 2014

@umbra21 - Yeah, I had a friend who was so terrified of flying she always had to take sedatives before the plane took off. She hated having to do that, because she thought it meant she wouldn't be able to react if there was a crash, but it was better than sitting for hours in misery.

Personally, all I have to do is drink a cup of chamomile tea and I fall right to sleep. Warm milk is another good one, with a little bit of cinnamon. But I've never had trouble sleeping unless it's been a side effect of medication.

By umbra21 — On Jan 31, 2014

@Iluviaporos - That's why I think the best sleeping pills are Ambien, but you need a prescription to get those. And I have heard that they can linger in your system if you take the wrong dose and make you drowsy the next day, which can be dangerous for drivers.

I have to be having a lot of trouble sleeping to take pills though. I'm always worried that I'll end up sleeping through something important, like an emergency or an urgent phone call. I've taken them a couple of times on very long journeys but that's about it.

By lluviaporos — On Jan 30, 2014

One of the things I've heard about taking sleep medications is that you can't do it regularly because they suppress REM sleep and you need that to stay sane. Without REM sleep you might start having psychological problems.

I heard this a while ago, though, so I guess modern medications might have overcome this problem. I suspect if you had a medication that just sent the person to sleep and then wore off, letting them fall into natural sleep, that wouldn't be harmful.

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