Everything You Need to Know About Sleep Aids

A guide to common-and not so common-sleep remedies and what you should know before trying them

Prescription Sleeping Pills

Non-Benzodiazepines, including zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zaleplon (Sonata), are among the most commonly prescribed sleep aids in the U.S. Classified as “hypnotic” or “sedative” drugs, non-benzodiazepines shorten the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep, and help you stay asleep through the night.

Never take a hypnotic sleep aid without at least eight hours to devote to sleep, advises Donna Arand, PhD, clinical director of the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio. Don’t reach for one of these drugs at 3:00 a.m. if you need to be sharp and alert by 8:00 a.m. Some sleep aids are active for only a few hours; but unless you know how you will respond, it is better to be cautious when taking them.

Hypnotic sleeping pills can also have a longer-lasting “hangover” effect the older you are. Eszopiclone has a longer half-life than zolpidem and zaleplon, meaning it takes about seven hours to start processing out of an average woman’s system, in many cases, and has a higher likelihood of making you feel groggy long into the next day. Still, any prescription sleep aid can make you feel a little fuzzy in the morning.

While these sleeping pills are less addicting than benzodiazepines (see below), they are not recommended for use beyond a couple of weeks. Non-benzodiazepines can still be habit forming, so proceed with caution.

Benzodiazepines, including lorazepam (Ativan) triazolam (Halcion) and temazepam (Restoril) were commonly prescribed in the 70s and 80s. Sometimes abbreviated as “benzos,” these pills are powerfully effective in helping people fall and stay asleep, yet can impede sustained deep sleep, and may result in fogginess, headaches and fatigue the next day. Classified as sedatives, they work well for people with serious anxiety, but should only be taken while under medical supervision. Because of a high risk for addiction, many doctors now steer clear of prescribing benzos.

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