Sleep aids are used to help sleep and prevent insomnia. Sleep medications differ in effectiveness and safety and are usually meant for short-term use. Persistent insomnia cannot be treated with sleep aids. Some changes to lifestyle like cutting down on alcohol, caffeine and nicotine and reducing stress may prove more effective than sleep aids. Sleep aids are best when not used on a daily basis. In case of using them over a long period of time consulting a professional is important to monitor potential side effects and avail greatest benefit.
The chief ingredient of Over-The-Counter (OTC) Sleep Aids is an antihistamine and some common OTC medications include Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine. Other OTC aids combine antihistamines with the pain relieving Acetaminophen and some combine it with alcohol. Some antihistamines that are meant only for allergies like Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton might be taken as mild sleep-inducers as well.
There are many kinds of Prescription sleep aids and these are classified as sedative hypnotics. These act on receptors within the brain to slow down the nervous system. Some sleep aids are used for staying asleep while some for inducing sleep. Among prescription medications, benzodiazepines are among the oldest type of sleep medications still commonly used. There are also non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotic sleeping pills in use. Melatonin receptor agonist hypnotic sleeping pills are the newest type of sleep aids and are used for sleep onset problems and do not work to help in staying asleep. Some physicians believe insomnia to be connected to depression and recommend anti-depressants although they have not proven effective as sleep aids.
Before taking sleep aids a discussion should be held with the doctor regarding other medications being taken to avoid complications. Sleep medication must not be stopped abruptly and it is advised to take them occasionally rather than daily to decrease negative side effects and improve efficiency of medication. Sleeping pills must only be taken when there is enough time to get adequate sleep or it might lead to drowsiness. The instructions on the package must be carefully read and potential side effects must be kept in mind and directions must be followed. Never consume alcohol around the time of consuming sleeping pills or drive after taking medication.
Both Prescription Medication and OTC Sleep Aids may have side effects like confusion, prolonged drowsiness, dry mouth and forgetfulness. More of the sleep aid must be taken for it to work which in turn may cause even more side effects and you may eventually become dependent on the medication, being unable to sleep without it. Stopping medication abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms. Sedative-hypnotic drug products can result in facial swelling, hallucinations, allergic reactions, memory lapses and other problems like sleep-walking. Some of the drugs can have serious side effects for patients with certain medical problems like glaucoma, high blood pressure, depression, breathing difficulties and liver problems. The antihistamines present in OTC sleep aids may produce severe side effects and it is important to consult the doctor especially if you are taking an anti-depressant or did so two or three weeks prior. Consultation is also necessary if taking other drugs for Parkinson’s disease or depression. Breast-feeding mothers must avoid sleep aids.