Sleeping pills, also known as hypnotics in one category, are psychotropic substances whose primary function is to promote sleep and to treat sleeping disorders such as insomnia. These medications are also used for surgical anaesthesia.
This group is closely related to sedatives. The term is usually used to describe pharmaceuticals that calm or relieve anxiety, whereas hypnotics have the primary purpose of initiating, sustaining, or lengthening sleep. Due to these two terms overlapping and these categories producing dose-dependent effects, they are often collectively referred to as sedative-hypnotics.
Sleeping tablets work in various ways to treat insomnia (sleeplessness). Since there are different types of hypnotics, they all have their unique mechanism of action. However, they all ultimately treat one or all aspects of insomnia.
Strong sleeping pills work in the following ways:
- Benzodiazepines – These medications are used for 2 to 4 weeks. They work in the brain and nervous system to enhance the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA is important in regulating sleep function. Examples include lorazepam, triazolam and clonazepam.
- Cyclopyrrolones – They are closely related to benzodiazepines, however, they are safer with milder side effects. Examples include eszopiclone and zopiclone.
- Antidepressants – Certain types of antidepressants such as tricyclic, tetracyclic and serotonin antagonists and reuptake inhibitors have sedative properties. These medications bind to multiple receptors in the brain to induce sleep. Examples include amitriptyline, trazodone and mianserin.
- Barbiturates – These are central nervous depressants that are also effective as hypnotics. They work by attaching to specific GABA receptors. Examples include amobarbital and phenobarbital. Although they are effective against insomnia, they pose risky side effects.
Safety Considerations When Taking Strong Sleeping Pills
Insomnia is quite a common problem as it has become commonplace in the UK and for that matter in most parts of the globe, developing or developed. Not getting the right amount of sleep can lead to severe consequences, making patients turn to sleeping tablets. Sleeping pills in the UK have become standard practice, and a necessity, as 29% of individuals have reported falling asleep at work or school.
These individuals have also nodded off while driving and doing other concentration-based activities. While these are the physical dangers, going without sleep can lead to migraines and increased depression as well.
In light of all these sleepless nights, it is no wonder why individuals turn to sleep medicines. Therefore, these considerations should be noted when using hypnotics.
- Plan for a full night of sleep – It is important to schedule enough time for a healthy night’s sleep, seven to eight hours. If patients take their sleep aid and wake up after a few hours, they may feel groggy. This is especially crucial in patients who have a sleep onset issue.
- Do not increase the dose of the tablet unnecessarily.
- Do not do stimulating activities after sleeping medication – Going to bed quickly after taking the tablet will reduce the risk of complex sleep-related behaviours.
- Couple the use of these medications with lifestyle changes – With persistent insomnia, it is best to change unhealthy living and sleeping habits. This will enhance the tablet’s effects, as well as treat insomnia quicker.
- Do not mix OTC sleeping medicines with strong sleeping pills – Mixing different types of medications may lead to adverse effects. Patients are also at risk of rebound insomnia.
Are There Side Effects Associated with Sleeping Pills?
All pharmaceuticals come with side effects, but these side effects can vary with the type of medication, according to evidence-based literature. When important instructions and safety considerations are adhered to, the side effects that come with strong sleeping pills can be managed until they disappear.
Patients can expect these common side effects:
- Change in appetite
- Stomach pain
- Impaired balance
- Unusual dreams or nightmares
Most sleeping tablets in the UK market are designed for short-term use, nevertheless, certain individuals may continue to use them on a long-term basis. In this situation, patients are increasing their risk of developing a slight tolerance to their medications, but this is weighed against the necessity of the longer treatment course.
The above instance may also call for an increase in dosage to reach optimal benefits, which may again result in additional side effects. If patients feel that their insomnia has not improved, they should evaluate different medication options that can be used as needed. It is also not advised to continue using over-the-counter or cheap sleeping pills every night, as it can cause dependence and withdrawal effects.
How Long does Strong Sleeping Pills Stay in the Body?
The elimination half-life of sleeping medicine widely depends on the type of medication and active ingredients. Certain sleep medications have short half-lives, such as Ambien, while other have longer half-lives, such as Valium. These figures can range from 3 hours to 20-80 hours. These half-lives have a direct effect on how fast the substance is eliminated from the body.
Many factors can affect this duration, such as:
- Overall health
- Kidney and liver function
- Duration of treatment and level of dosage
- Other medication use
When quitting these medications, it is advised to gradually taper off them instead of stopping suddenly. This process helps with the alleviation of withdrawal symptoms that most individuals experience after their treatment has concluded.
The Differences between Prescription and OTC Sleeping Pills
Sleep aids range from pharmaceutical medications to natural herbs, which help an individual to fall asleep. There are several ways in which they help patients to achieve adequate rest. However, when it comes to OTC or prescription, most patients can become slightly confused on what step to take next.
Below is a table that can help patients distinguish between OTC and prescription medicine and the associated benefits:
|Prescription Sleep Medicines||Over-the-counter Sleep Medicines|
|Benzodiazepines – These are potent medications that are commonly used for anxiety and insomnia. They bind to definite receptors in the brain and is not recommended for long-term use.||Melatonin – This hormone naturally occurs in the body, which plays a role in the circadian cycle. It has been found that melatonin supplements can help with sleep disorders such as insomnia.|
|Non-benzodiazepines work the same as benzodiazepines; however, they do not pose the same side effects.||Glycine – This is an amino acid used to regulate the central nervous system. It can also control sleep functions.|
|Certain antidepressant medications have drowsiness as a prominent side effect.||Diphenhydramine – The key ingredient in allergy medicines. However, the medicine can also promote sleep.|
If patients do not wish to take sleeping tablets, they can also opt for natural solutions, such as valerian root, lavender, GABA supplements, CBD oils, and edibles. However, pharmacological options in the form of strong pills remains a necessity for short-term relief in conjunction with other therapies or lifestyle changes.