Sleeping Pill Side Effects

drug addiction sleeping pills

Sleeping pills can be a simple and effective way to catch up on rest after travelling has placed patients in a different time zone or their schedule has changed dramatically. There are both prescription and over-the-counter sleeping pills available.  Some sleeping pills can help patients fall asleep, some can help patients stay asleep, and some are designed to do both.

These pills are not recommended for long-term use, only as a temporary sleep aid. Patients suffering from persistent insomnia should consult a doctor because this is often an indication of an underlying physical or psychological issue, and sleeping pills will not help to treat those issues, only the symptom of not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Both over-the-counter and prescription sleeping pills have serious potential side effects, and these can vary from person to person, so a doctor should be consulted before any use. The dosage and how long the drug lasts in the patient’s system should also be carefully monitored to mitigate sleeping pill side effects. In many cases, patients have filed lawsuits against manufacturers for harm caused by sleeping pill side effecs.

The following factors may influence the form of treatment that a doctor recommends:

  • Liver or kidney problems
  • Glaucoma
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Trouble urinating
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Drug or alcohol dependencies
  • Conditions that effect metabolism
  • Heart problems
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • Other medications, including herbal supplements
  • Age

Over-The-Counter Sleeping Pill Side Effects

Over-the-counter sleeping pills share the same main ingredient, antihistamine. Antihistamines are generally taken to treat allergies and common cold symptoms. Their effectiveness in aiding sleep has not been proven, yet their side effects are typically the same.

 The side effects of these sleeping pills include:

  • Drowsiness persisting through the next day
  • Blurred vision
  • Forgetfulness
  • Dizziness
  • Clumsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Urinary retention and constipation

There may also be severe reactions to other medication, especially antidepressants, medications for Parkinson’s, and risk of overdose if patients are already taking an allergy treatment. Over-the-counter sleep aids should not be taken if breastfeeding, and should only be taken short-term.

Prescription Sleeping Pill Side Effects

Prescription sleeping pills utilize more varied ingredients, and thus the sleeping pill side effects are more varied based on which sleeping pill is being used. Some of the common types of prescription pills used to treat sleep disorders are: benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepines, and melonin receptor agonist hypnotic sleeping pills.


While these are the oldest form of sleeping pills that are still commonly used, doctors have begun to shy away from prescribing them because of the many known side effects. Some of these side effects include: physical or psychological dependency; detriment of sleep quality; persistent drowsiness; withdrawal symptoms and rebound insomnia when pills are stopped. All benzodiazepines are classified as controlled substances.

Benzodiazepines include:

  • temazepam (Restoril)
  • triazolam (Halcion)
  • quazepam (Doral)
  • estazolam ( ProSom)
  • flurazepam (Dalmane)
  • diazepan (Valium)


These are newer forms of sleeping pills, and carry a lower risk of dependency than benzodiazepines. However, these drugs have many known side effects as well, and some patients do not find them as effective in helping to fall asleep.

In January of 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began to require manufacturers of drugs with the active ingredient zolpidem, such as Ambien, to lower the recommended dosage. This came about due to the levels of the drug found in patients, especially women, the morning after taking the drug.

Non-benzodiazepines include:

  • eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • zalepon (Sonata)
  • zolpidem (Ambien)

Side effects of non-benzodiazepines include:

  • Drug tolerance
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or disorientation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Increased depression, including suicidal thoughts or tendencies
  • Restricted breathing
  • Newly developed sleep disorders such as sleep-walking, sleep-eating, or sleep-driving
  • Rebound insomnia when pills are stopped

Before Taking a New Sleep Aid

Prior to taking any new sleep aids, patients should:

  • Read about potential side effects
  • Ensure at least eight hours to sleep
  • Wait until all nightly activities are completed
  • Avoid alcohol consumption, as it may react with the pill
  • Read directions carefully, following dosage recommendations

Sleep pills are one of the most common prescriptions given by doctors in the United States, but they can be dangerous.

Every night, Americans have trouble falling asleep. Many opt to use sleeping pills. Some are encouraged to do so by their doctors, while others are influenced by marketing.

Estimates show about 60 million Americans use sleeping pills every year. That number continues to grow. Generic pills have increased market growth. Americans are spending $2 billion on prescription sleep aids in 2010. Sleep pills are big business.

Types of Sleeping Pills

Sleep pills are taken to help users fall asleep. Most work by causing drowsiness. Some prescribed sleeping pills are drugs used to treat other issues, but they cause users to feel sleepy as a side effect. Pills come in many different strengths. You can even buy some sleep pills over-the-counter, so no doctor’s visit is needed.

The most commonly prescribed sleeping pills include:

  • Benzodiazephines: this medication has been available for many years and works by altering the GABA receptors in the brain, which control a person’s level of alertness. Sleep aids that affect GABA receptors include Xanax, Valium, and Halcion. These are commonly given to people with anxiety issues and other mood disorders. These medications are available with a prescription.
  • Selective GABA Sleeping Pills: this type of sleep aid also targets the GABA receptors in the brain, but are very exact. They are only used to cause sleepiness. Common examples of Selective GABA Sleeping Pills include Lunesta, Sonata, Ambien, and Ambien CR. You can only get these with a prescription.
  • Sleep Cycle Modifiers: this drug affects the area of the brain that regulates when you feel tired and when you feel alert. It is a prescription medication called Ramelteon.
  • Diphenhydramine: OTC sleep aid found in allergy relief medications, as well as Tylenol PM, Excedrin PM, and Nytol. This medication is given to people suffering from mild insomnia.

Sleeping Pills Trigger Side Effects

No matter what sleeping pill you take, you are likely to have side effects. They can range from mild to severe. For people with serious issues sleeping, mild side effects might be worth the trouble. However, if your sleep problems are mild or only occur sometimes you should avoid sleep pills. You should also speak to your doctor about other options if you do have serious side effects from using sleep pills.

Some of the most common side effects of sleeping pills include:

  • Confusion
  • Poor memory
  • Sleep walking
  • Addiction
  • Drowsiness during daytime hours

There is also a chance sleeping pill usage might be linked to an increased risk for cancer.

Sleeping Pill Cancer Risk

Insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep, is a problem which affects many people. Approximately 30 percent of adults experience some symptoms of insomnia each year. Additionally, approximately ten percent of adults suffer from chronic insomnia. This means that they regularly struggle with falling asleep or remaining asleep.

Both mild and chronic insomnia are often treatable by modifying behaviors such as diet and frequency of exercise. Although it is possible to treat insomnia without making use of medication, there are a large variety of different sleeping pills currently available. Milder sleeping aids are available over the counter without a prescription, while stronger medications require a prescription.

Sleeping pills help many people to get restful sleep. However, they can also be dangerous. In addition to a range of side effects which may accompany specific types of sleeping pills, recent studies have shown a link between sleeping pill usage and an increased risk of death. Studies have also raised the possibility of sleeping pill cancer risk.

Cancer Risks

Recent studies have drawn a connection between sleeping pill use and increased risk of developing cancer. Sleeping pill cancer risk first became an issue following research released in 2012. Sleeping pill cancer risk was analyzed by looking at a group of over ten thousand patients who used sleeping pills and comparing their health to a group of over twenty three thousand people who did not take sleep aids.

This research found that sleeping pill cancer risk appeared to be a problem. The people most affected by sleeping pill cancer risk were those who consumed the highest number of sleeping pills. Among those who consumed the largest number of sleeping pills, sleeping pill cancer risk was roughly 35 percent higher than that found in the control population. In addition to sleeping pill cancer risk, the study also found that those who took sleeping pills were significantly more likely to suffer death than control group individuals.

Legal Action against Sleeping Pill Makers

Despite sleeping pills helping to treat insomnia, users have experienced a number of unpleasant side effects. In some cases, people taking sleep pills were injured.

In response to these unexpected side effects, some are taking legal action against the makers of sleep aids. Users have complained sleep aids have caused them to engage in harmful actions while sleeping.

In one instance, a user sleep walked while using Ambien, which led to an injury. Others claim they have eaten or driven while sleeping. Lawsuits allege the makers of the pills knew of the risks but failed to warn doctors and consumers about the dangers. Many also believe sleeping pill makers have failed to alert consumers to the addictive nature of the medication.

Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA. 

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