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Taking Sleep Medications for Insomnia

Follow these guidelines to make sure that you use sleep medications safely and properly.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine
AASM | 03/14/2007

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that you talk to your doctor if you have insomnia. For a severe case of ongoing insomnia, he or she may refer you to a sleep specialist.

First your doctor will determine the cause of your sleep problem. Insomnia is a complex sleep disorder. It can have a variety of causes, including the following:

  • Depression
  • Shift work or erratic work schedules
  • Stress
  • Medication side effects
  • A medical condition such as arthritis or asthma
  • Another sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome
  • Disturbances to your sleep environment such as noise and light

Once the cause is known, your doctor will decide which treatment option is best for you. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one option that produces long-lasting results for many people with insomnia.

Sleep medications are another common treatment option. They often are used for the short-term treatment of insomnia. Newer medications also may be used for cases of ongoing insomnia. Your doctor can choose from a number of safe options when prescribing a medication for you.

Like any other drug, sleep medications may cause some side effects. These side effects can include sleepwalking, sleep eating and other complex sleep behaviors. Some people also may experience memory problems.

AASM Guidelines for Taking Sleep Medications

Follow these guidelines to make sure that you use sleep medications safely and properly:

  • Never take a sleeping pill without first getting approval from your doctor.

  • Never drink alcohol in an attempt to fall asleep faster. Alcohol will only disrupt your sleep even more. It causes you to wake up more often during the night.

  • Make sure your doctor is aware of any other medications that you already take. This includes non-prescription medications such as pain relievers and allergy medicines. Combining medications can be very dangerous.

  • Make sure that your doctor is aware of other medical conditions that you have. Some drugs can have serious side effects for people with other medical problems. Examples of these problems include high blood pressure and liver problems.

  • Carefully read the package insert that comes with your medication. Pay careful attention to the potential side effects that it describes.

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions for how much you should take. Only take it for as many days or weeks as your doctor tells you.

  • Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about taking your medication.

  • Never take your medication for any other reason than to help you sleep.

  • Take your sleeping pill at the right time of day. Many sleeping pills must be taken just before you go to bed.

  • Only take a sleeping pill when you will have enough time to get a full night of sleep (7 to 8 hours). Otherwise you may feel drowsy the next day.

  • Find out whether you should take your medication with or without food. Most sleeping pills should be taken on an empty stomach.

  • Never drink alcohol near the time when you take a sleeping pill.

  • Never drive a motor vehicle after taking a sleeping pill.

  • Contact your doctor or pharmacist right away if you have any problems while taking a sleep medication.
Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you have any other questions about taking sleep medications.

Reviewed by David A. Kristo, MD
Updated March 14, 2007
   Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Sleep Medicine