Medication To Sleep: Is It Right for Me?

Woman Taking Medication From Containers On Bedside Table

Key Points

  • Taking medication to sleep helps users relax, allowing them to fall asleep quickly.

  • Some prescribed sleeping medications can have adverse effects and need doctor supervision.

  • Ways to fall asleep without medication include reading a book, practicing even breathing, and taking a hot bath before bed.

One of the most irritating things to deal with in adulthood is struggling to fall asleep at night. Everyone has experienced it: You have that 6:00 AM alarm set, you're comfy in bed, and then you just lay there wide awake, trying to force yourself to shut your brain off. However, despite your best attempts, you simply can't seem to go to sleep. Unfortunately, this is a pervasive problem and a significant reason why many people seek medication to sleep.

There is quite an array of over-the-counter sleeping aids available, including pills, gummies, and children's medication. Of course, there's also prescription medicine. Although many people turn to medication to sleep, some have begun to question whether it's essential or even if it's helpful long-term.

Safety First

Prescription sleeping medication has many rules attached, including taking medicine before bed — basically, you shouldn't have any plans after sleeping pills — and in the prescribed amount. Also, it's critical to strictly adhere to the instructions on the medication box or bottle.

For example, some drugs don't work correctly unless taken on an empty stomach. Failing to follow the doctor's and written instructions involving sleeping medications may lead to ineffective metabolization, drug dependency, or even an accidental overdose. Symptoms of a sleeping pill overdose include extreme drowsiness during the day, memory loss, and a slowed respiratory rate.

Woman lies awake in bed late at night unable to fall sleep

Another aspect to consider regarding sleeping medication is its interactions with other substances. While taking prescription sleep medication, users must exercise caution when drinking alcohol and be aware of possible interactions with other medicines. Medications like opiates — for pain relief — and antidepressants can interact negatively with prescription sleeping pills, leading to respiratory distress or worse.

Even though prescription sleeping medications carry some risks — as do all drugs — if you have severe and persistent trouble falling asleep, prescription sleeping pills might feel like a miracle. As long as you follow a doctor's instructions and exercise caution with this class of medication, sleeping pills are a safe and effective solution to those sleepless nights.

The Pill Principles

Sleeping medications work in a few different ways. The body's most common course of action is through the central nervous system — meaning your brain and spine. Most sleeping pills slow down the brain's activity, allowing the user to relax more quickly.

Some sleeping medications mimic the action of the sleep hormones that your body already makes naturally. If you want to get fancy, some options activate the inhibitory messengers in your brain; of course, they inhibit brain function when activated.

Similar to other medications, not every option will work with every patient, as people react differently.

To Pill or Not To Pill

Sleep medication usage is rising in the United States, likely due to decreasing sleep quality. According to the CDC, as of 2020, almost nine percent of adults in the US use some kind of sleeping aid to improve their sleeping patterns.

It's vital to understand that some sleeping drugs can be addictive or have other adverse effects. Due to these potential problems, being diligent about your medication and having regular checkups while taking sleeping pills is crucial. Keep your physician updated on your sleep progress while on or off medication.

Woman lies awake in bed unable to fall asleep

Made by various companies, sleeping pills often have different ingredients, but their objective is the same. Sleeping aids should make you tired and relax the body to fall asleep. Choosing which sleeping pill is best for you is an overwhelming task — not to mention potentially dangerous — so discuss it with your physician to fully understand your options.

Here is a quick breakdown of some of the top prescription sleeping medications that you can discuss with your doctor:


Zolpidem is commonly known as Ambien and is mainly used as a short-term fix for chronic insomnia. It works similarly to a sedative, relaxing your brain and making you tired. Note that Ambien is a controlled substance that can cause drug dependence. To avoid becoming addicted, ensure you aren't taking more than your prescribed dose.

Ambien is an excellent choice for individuals who routinely struggle to fall asleep. If your sleep issue is staying asleep, there is an "extended-release" option; this variant means that instead of taking a pill and getting an instant feeling of drowsiness, the relaxation comes over a more extended period, allowing you to stay asleep longer.

While taking Ambien under a doctor's instruction is usually safe, some patients experience side effects like nausea, mental fogginess, and dizziness.


Doxepin is a popular option because not only does it help patients fall asleep, but it also helps them stay asleep. It works by slowing down brain activity, allowing the user to go to sleep more easily.

This medication is typically only prescribed for short-term use — usually around three months — and may be best when combined with another treatment or therapy. As with many medicines, Doxepin can have minor side effects, such as nausea and lightheadedness.

Woman opens a bottle of pills to help her sleep


Temazepam is another reliable short-term option for providing relief to insomnia. Doctors will often reassess patients after 10 days of Temazepam treatment to test if some underlying cause of insomnia is at fault. Temazepam is a quick fix to get to the bottom of a patient's issue.

Doctors are cautious with prescribing Temazepam since it's a benzodiazepine, which can be addictive. This sleeping aid promotes sedation by relaxing your central nervous system, which slows everything down and makes it much easier to fall asleep. Common side effects include headaches, mental fog, and dizziness.


Ramelteon is a popular choice because it's a long-term sleeping medication. This option is also not a controlled substance, meaning there is only a small risk of developing an addiction.

Ramelteon has a slightly different mechanism. Instead of slowing down your brain activity, it works by acting like the brain's natural sleep hormone, melatonin. Side effects are usually minimal, but some patients experience drowsiness and nausea during the day.

Woman takes pills for her insomnia


Zaleplon is one of the newer medications, but many patients like it because it has a short half-life. In non-science terms, it stays active in your body for a shorter period, meaning you can wake up in the morning without feeling too woozy and out of it.

This medication is best suited for individuals who have issues falling asleep. It isn't an optimum choice for individuals who have problems staying asleep because it metabolizes so quickly. Side effects may include lightheadedness and nausea.

Natural Sleeping Aids

While some patients turn to prescribed sleeping medication to catch some Z's, there are other methods to try that don't involve getting a prescription. There are even over-the-counter medications available that some individuals find very helpful. Here are some of the most popular tactics.


The hormone mentioned earlier, melatonin, is an excellent option for people who need extra help going to sleep but don't want anything prescription-strength. Your body naturally makes melatonin in tandem with your circadian rhythms, so more of it's synthesized and released at night when you're ready to go to bed.

Patients can get synthetic melatonin at a pharmacy to help increase their levels, making it easier to fall sleep and stay asleep. Melatonin sometimes feels "safer" to take a lot of because it's a natural component already found in the body, but you shouldn't have to take it every night.

According to Dr. Rashad Ramkissoon, "[Artificial] melatonin isn't a long-term fix for sleep issues; if you're consistently suffering from insomnia, [you] need to determine why and find an effective solution for it."

Woman yawns and throws hands over her head

Read a Book

This suggestion is age-old, but for a good reason: It helps! Besides keeping you off your phone — light from screens keeps you up at night — reading helps you to relax and wind down.

If you feel like your brain is running a mile a minute before bed, reading a few chapters of a book will help you slow down. Try not to read anything too interesting at bedtime. If you pick a thriller or gory action novel, your book may have the opposite effect on your stress levels!

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Try progressive muscle relaxation if you find it difficult to sleep and relax enough to fall asleep at night. First, ensure that you're breathing evenly and deeply. If you can't find the right rhythm, try the four-seven-eight method: inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds.

Next, focus on one muscle group at a time. Some patients like to start with muscle groups at the top of the body, like the neck and jaw, while others like to begin at the bottom with the toes and calves. Tense all the muscles in your chosen group for 10 seconds, then relax the muscles, allowing 20 seconds between tensing up the next adjacent group.

You can repeat this cycle as many times as you need to relax fully.

Keep a Journal

If you find your mind racing when you want to wind down, try writing in a journal for a few minutes before bed. Anxiety and stress are the principal reasons some individuals can't fall asleep, and keeping a journal helps you get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

Even writing on paper can be relaxing and slow the gears working overtime in your head. As a bonus, it'll keep you away from those pesky screens. Key your journal and a pen on your bedside table to help start a journaling routine that's easy to stick to over time.

Get Wet

There's a reason you feel so peaceful in the hot tub! Spending even a few minutes in a hot bath before bed can help you relax quickly. Moving your baths to nighttime might do the trick if you're a morning bather and have trouble falling asleep.

Not only does warm water relax your muscles, soothing your body and clearing your mind before you crawl under the covers. If you're not a bath person, a hot, steamy shower works well too!

Man lays awake in bed struggling to fall asleep

Get Your Beauty Sleep

With the rising prevalence of sleep issues in 2023, prescription sleeping medications are increasingly common. The numerous misconceptions regarding prescription medications make the topic scary and taboo, but discussing it with your physician is always the right call.

Is it safe to take medication to go to sleep? The answer is cautiously yes. Awareness of the risks of sleeping medication is imperative, and users should constantly update their doctor on behavior changes when taking prescription drugs. If something about the medicine — or dosage — doesn't feel right, it probably isn't right!

Don't be afraid to speak with your doctor if a prescribed sleeping pill isn't doing its job or if you're experiencing unpleasant side effects. As long as you follow a doctor's guidelines and are cautious with your medication, you'll likely feel a huge relief.

If you don't want to take prescription medication or prefer something sans drugs, try reading or bathing before bed. Life is just too short to be getting a lousy night of sleep.

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