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Sleeping Tablets from the Doctor. 3 Popular Types.

Updated on August 2, 2016

Insomnia is no joke. If you’re one of the estimated 1 in 3 people who lies awake at night frustrated by not being able to sleep, finding a solution is a priority.

You may want to look at drug-free ways to fall asleepor herbal sleeping pillsbefore you find yourself in front of your doctor asking for medical sedatives, but in this hub we’re going to look at some of the commonly used pharmaceuticals that may help you sleep/sleep better.

Remember that what works for one person is not guaranteed to work for everyone, both in natural sleep solutions and from the doctor’s prescription pad. You may have to try 1 or 2 drugs before you find something that lets you sleep with out too many unacceptable side effects.

For more on getting better sleep so that you wake feeling refreshed look at

Why won't my doctor won't prescribe sleeping pills?

Doctors are often reluctant to prescribe sleeping tablets for a number of reasons. These include:

  • Drowsiness or a ‘hangover’ effect the day after taking sleeping meds. This can lead to accidents.
  • Accidents if you need to get out of bed at night as it’s more difficult to wake from sedated sleep.
  • Tolerance. This means that your body gets used to the drug and you need to take more to get the same effect.
  • Dependence. This means that if the drug is withdrawn suddenly you suffer side effects.

Benzodiazepines, Z drugs and antihistamines are 3 of the most commonly used sleeping tablet. All drugs have a chemical name and a brand name. The chemical name is given here with some examples of the drug name in brackets. Some manufacturers make the same drug but call it different names and brand names vary between countries. To find out more, look up the chemical name on a good website – there’s one given in the links box to the side below.


This group includes temazepam, lorazepam, flurazepam (Dalmane), lormetazepam and nitrazepam. They affect the part of the brain that influences our emotions, relax the muscles and work by helping you fall asleep more quickly.

The guidance for taking benzodiazepines and Z–drugs is similar but read each of these lists of cautions:

  1. Don’t take them for more than 4 weeks without medical approval.
  2. Don’t drink alcohol while you’re taking them.
  3. If you’re pregnant/might be pregnant, breast feeding, have liver or kidney problems, have sleep apnea, have/have had problems with addition to drugs or alcohol, have mental health problems, have myasthenia gravis, have porphyria or have had an allergic reaction to any similar drug, do not take benzodiazepines.
  4. Take them whole with a drink of water – don’t chew or suck them – just before bedtime.
  5. When you want to stop them, do it slowly (see below) and take your doctor’s advice.
  6. Take them only as your doctor prescribes.
  7. Don’t take them with any other sleeping medication or herbal sleeping pill unless your doctor says it’s safe.

Side effects include:

  • Drowsiness and dizziness
  • Unsteadiness on your feet; possibly muscle weakness
  • Forgetfulness; confusion.

Z drugs

Zaleplon, zolpidem (Stilnoct) and zopiclone (Zimovane) are included in this drug group. They work in a similar way to benzodiazepines (see above).

  1. Z drugs also shouldn’t be taken for more than about 4 weeks continuously.
  2. Don’t drink alcohol while you’re taking them.
  3. The same precautions as for benzodiazepines apply to Z-drugs: don’t take them if you’re pregnant or might be pregnant, if you’re breast feeding, have liver or kidney problems, have sleep apnea, have/have had problems with addition to drugs or alcohol, have mental health problems.
  4. Take your tablet or capsule whole with a drink of water before bedtime.
  5. Talk to your physician when you want to stop them, and do this slowly (see below).
  6. Take them only as your doctor prescribes.
  7. Don’t mix them with any other sleeping medication or herbal sleeping pill without medical advice.

Common side effects are:

  • Sleepiness, dizziness during the day after taking Z-drugs
  • A bitter or metallic taste in your mouth
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Headache
  • Hallucinations, poor memory, nightmares, feeling irritable.


Antihistamines such as promethazine (Avomine, Phenergan, Sominex) aren’t sleeping meds. They have the side effect of drowsiness so your doctor may want to take advantage of this by using them to help you sleep. They will be useful if you have allergies that stop you from sleeping well.

The down side is that many people say they cause a ‘hangover’ of drowsiness in the morning and they also shouldn’t be taken over a long period of time.


  1. Take them as prescribed by your doctor.
  2. Don’t take them for more than 7 days continuously.
  3. Again, if you are pregnant or might be pregnant, are breast feeding, have heart, liver or kidney problems, have glaucoma, epilepsy, or prostate problems advise your doctor before you take them.
  4. If you’re taking any herbal treatments then talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking antihistamines.
  5. Take your tablet just before bed.
  6. Some antihistamines may cause the skin to become sensitive to the sun so use a sun block (factor 30 or higher) until you’re sure they don’t affect you.
  7. Take your meds whole, with a glass of water.
  8. Don’t drink alcohol while taking them.

Common side effects include:

  • Blurred vision, sleepiness, dizziness
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty urinating (taking a pee)
  • Nausea/vomiting.

How to safely stop taking sleeping pills.

When you’re ready to stop your sleeping tablets take your doctor’s advice about reducing them and what to do if you find you get stuck and can’t sleep/have side effects.

  1. Your doctor will tell you how slowly to reduce your meds and over what time period. DO NOT stop them suddenly: this weaning down process is important.
  2. Reduce your dose when your stressors are low. Perhaps try to do this when you’re on holiday.
  3. Expect to have some sleeplessness when you stop. If you anticipate this then you won’t feel disappointed if/when it happens. Allow your body to adjust to sleeping without chemical help.
  4. As you reduce your dose, re-examine why you can’t sleep and try to make a plan to lessen this. Having had a few good nights’ sleep, this may be easier as your sense of perspective may have come back.


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