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What are the Different Types of Prescription Sleep Aids?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated May 17, 2024
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Some people with insomnia have trouble falling asleep. Others may find themselves constantly waking up throughout the night. There are different types of prescription sleep aids for both of these problems. Before taking any new medication, patients should carefully review the potential side effects and interactions with their doctors. Most prescription sleep aids work by targeting certain receptors in the brain to stimulate sleep.

Eszopiclone and estazolam are two kinds of prescription sleep aids for people who have trouble staying asleep. Estazolam may not be safe for the elderly or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, however. It can also be habit-forming and may interact with other drugs. Eszopiclone may be safer for long-term use, however, it is not a good choice for people who have a history of alcohol or drug abuse, lung disease, or depression. Discontinuing this medication may also result in withdrawal effects, like nausea, anxiety, and shakiness.

Patients may also consider zolpidem, which may be safer for long-term use. People with a history of respiratory conditions, liver or kidney disease, or depression should not consider zolpidem. Another option may be temazepam, however, this drug can be habit-forming. It may also interact with other medications, alcohol, and may be inappropriate for patients with a history of severe depression.

Triazolam, a class of drug called a benzodiazepine, may be used by patients who are not pregnant or breastfeeding and do not have a history of depression or drug abuse. This medication may be habit-forming as well. It can also cause withdrawal effects when discontinued abruptly, so patients should gradually reduce dosages. Triazolam may also interact with alcohol, grapefruit juice, and other medications.

Ramelteon is different from many prescription sleep aids in that it is less likely to be habit-forming. It produces a similar effect to the natural hormone, melatonin, that regulates the body's sleep-wake cycle. Ramelteon is not safe for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or those who have a history of sleep apnea, depression, and kidney or respiratory problems. It may also interact with alcohol. Patients should refrain from eating high-fat meals before taking this drug, as it may slow the absorption of the medication.

Instead of these prescription sleep aids, patients can consider the use of a sedating antidepressant when their insomnia is secondary to depression. Some examples of sedating antidepressants include amitriptyline, trazodone, and doxepin. These drugs may interact with many other medications, including blood-thinners and herbal supplements. Many antidepressants can cause life-threatening side effects when used within 14 days of taking a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). Patients should carefully consider several different types of prescription sleep aids with their doctor before using one.

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Discussion Comments
By Laotionne — On Jan 12, 2015

I have been having trouble sleeping, and a friend suggested I take sleeping pills. I have heard so many stories about people getting addicted to them that I was afraid to get any. I am pleased to read in this article that there are some sleeping pills that are not addictive.

I know that sleeping pills are not be a long term solution, but not getting enough sleep can cause a lot of health problems, so these pills make sense sometimes.

By Feryll — On Jan 12, 2015

@mobilian33 - I am by no means an expert on depression, but I do know that exercise is a good way to tire out the body and bring on sleep in most people. If your sister can't take sleeping pills and other sleeping medications then she has nothing to lose by trying exercise as a sleeping aide. As I said, I'm not an expert with depression issues so she should check with her doctor first, but I wouldn't think exercise could do any harm.

By mobilian33 — On Jan 11, 2015

My sister suffers with depression. One of her symptoms is that she can't sleep for very long. This is the opposite of what most people think would be the case with a person who has depression. Many people with depression have trouble getting out of bed, so this is usually the image associated with someone with depression.

But my sister has a tough time falling asleep at night, so she stays up late at night staring at the TV screen. When she does finally drop off to sleep she only sleeps for a few hours before she is wide awake again.

She has tried various prescription sleeping pills and a lot of over-the-counter sleeping aides, but they all make her depression worse, so she has pretty much resigned herself to going without sleep until she can find something that works.

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