Sleeping Pill Side Effects

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

View Sources

  1. Holt, Betty. “Natural Sleep Aids With Melotonin and Tryptophan.” The Livestrong Foundation, 14 Jun 2011. Web. 8 May 2013.
  2. Robinson, Laurence, and Gina Kemp. “” Sleeping Pills & Natural Sleep Aids., n.d. Web. 8 May 2013.
  3. “Mayo Clinic.” Prescription Sleeping Pills: What’s Right For You?. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. , 02 Dec 2011. Web. 8 May 2013. “FDA US Food and Drug Administration.” FDA requiring lower recommended dose for certain sleep drugs containing zolpidem . US Department of Health and Human Services, 11 Jan 2013. Web. 8 May 2013.
  4. “FDA US Food and Drug Administration.” FDA requiring lower recommended dose for certain sleep drugs containing zolpidem . US Department of Health and Human Services, 11 Jan 2013. Web. 8 May 2013.