“Sleeping pills” refers to a generic term used to describe both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. These medications are used to help individuals who have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep on their own. Sleeping pills are hypnotics, meaning that they promote or extend sleep. They are also sometimes called sedatives, which while literally meaning “calming,” more often can refer to “the ability to cause drowsiness.”
What are sleeping pills?
The most common prescription sleeping pills, or hypnotics, are in the classes of drugs called benzodiazepines or benzodiazepine receptor agonists. Sleeping pills can have serious side effects if overused or abused.
If you feel you might need sleeping pills, you should first consult your healthcare provider.
A healthy adult needs an average of 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Sometimes, an individual might have a problem getting this amount of sleep. This problem could be due to several factors, including:
Underlying health problems
Medications taken for a pre-existing medical condition. These drugs might include decongestants taken for colds and allergies, medications taken for high blood pressure (including beta blockers), corticosteroids, and some drugs for asthma
Using too much caffeine, especially late in the day
Having a noisy or bright sleeping space
Eating, drinking, or exercising too close to bedtime
Working 2nd or 3rd shift and sleeping non-traditional hours
Sleep-related problems, including (among others): obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), when breathing can be impaired during sleep; and restless legs syndrome (RLS), in which a creeping or uncomfortable sensation in the legs is experienced at night, and is typically relieved by moving or stretching the legs