If you’re having trouble sleeping, medicines should NOT be your first option. Regular exercise, avoiding caffeine and alcohol after midday, eating less in the evening, reducing “screen time” before bed and making your bedroom comfortable for sleep should be your first options.
But, if you have tried everything and are still struggling with sleep, medication may be an option to explore. However, it should be considered ONLY as a short term remedy until you get back to your own healthy routine of sleep.
What Are Sleeping Pills?
Most sleeping pills are classified as "sedative hypnotics." That's a specific class of drugs used to induce and/or maintain sleep. Sedative hypnotics include benzodiazepines, barbiturates and various hypnotics.
Benzodiazepines are drugs (such as Valium), used to treat anxiety. They are the most commonly prescribed sleeping pills.
While these drugs may be useful in the short-term, ALL benzodiazepines are potentially addictive and can cause problems with memory and attention. They are usually not recommended for long-term treatment of sleeping problems.
Barbiturates, another drug in this sedative-hypnotic class, depress the central nervous system and can cause sedation. These hypnotic drugs are limited to use as anesthesia and can be fatal in the event of an overdose.
Our sleep-wake cycle is dependent on the hormone Melatonin released cyclically from a gland in our brain. Orally administered Melatonin helps induce sleep in some people, but it is not as effective as other sedatives.
Z-drugs or hypnotics are prescribed medicines which also enhance the actions of GABA (what is a GABA?) to depress brain activity and have the same hazards related to excessive sedation and dependence. Bizzare behaviour and symptoms, for example hallucinations and sleep-walking that can be dangerous, are more likely with these drugs than with benzodiazepines.
Newer medications help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. Some of these sleep-inducing drugs, which bind to the same receptors in the brain, simile tobenzodiazepines, include Lunestra, Sonata and Ambien. They are somewhat less likely than benzodiazepines to be habit-forming, but, over time, can still sometimes cause physical dependence.