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- What are hypnotics? How do they work (mechanism of action)?
- What are hynotics used to treat?
- Hypnotic side effects
- Are hypnotics addictive?
- Can I drink alcohol if I'm taking a hypnotic drug?
- OTC (over-the-counter) hypnotics
- Natural, herbal hypnotics and hypnotic supplements
- Types of hypnotics (hypnotic drugs)
- List and examples of brand and generic names of hypnotic drugs
- What drugs or supplements interact with hypnotics?
- Are these drugs safe to take if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
What are hypnotics? How do they work (mechanism of action)?
Hypnotics are drugs that are used to help people fall asleep. There are many types of hypnotic drugs, and doctors recommend and prescribe them based on the type of sleep problem you have. Lifestyle and sleep habit changes also are effective for treating certain types of sleep problems.
If you have chronic insomnia or problems sleeping contact your doctor or other health care professional. Doctors specializing in sleep problems (sleep medicine) can help you determine the cause of your insomnia and treat it.
Hypnotic drugs also called sleep aids, sleeping pills, or soporifics.
What are hynotics used to treat?
Doctors prescribe hypnotics to treat insomnia. Insomnia is a sleep problem that may involve difficulty falling or staying asleep. Inadequate sleep affects mood, energy levels, health, and work performance.
Common causes of insomnia are stress, traumatic events, depression, anxiety, and medications. If you know the cause of your insomnia and treat it, it may reduce the need for sleep medications to aid or induce sleep.
Hypnotic side effects
Side effects of hypnotics depend upon the type of hypnotic used.
Some common side effects of some hypnotics include:
- Short-term forgetfulness
- Rebound insomnia
- Dry mouth
- Withdrawal symptoms (for example, anxiety, or insomnia)
- Unpleasant taste
Other side effects of hypnotics may include:
- Abnormal dreams
- Upper respiratory infections
- Stomach upset
- Loss of coordination
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Loss of appetite
Possible serious side effects may include:
Are hypnotics addictive?
Benzodiazepines are addictive hypnotics and are federally controlled substances. People can develop a physical dependence after several days of taking them, and the risk is higher during long-term use.
Can I drink alcohol if I'm taking a hypnotic drug?
Do not drink alcohol before are after taking a sleep medication because drinking alcohol while using a sleep medication or sedative may lead to severe drowsiness.
Quick GuideSleep Disorders: Insomnia, Sleep Apnea, and More
OTC (over-the-counter) hypnotics
Diphenhydramine (for example, Benadryl) and doxylamine (for example, Unisom) are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that can help people fall asleep. These drugs are antihistamines that cause drowsiness and sedation. Only use these medications for a few days. Talk with your doctor or other health care professional if you have insomnia for more than a couple of weeks.
You should read the instructions and warnings before taking OTC sleep medicine because they can have serious adverse effects if not used properly. They also may interfere with the action of other drugs.
Side effects reported by people taking diphenhydramine or doxylamine include:
Natural, herbal hypnotics and hypnotic supplements
Synthetic melatonin capsules, pills, or tablets may help people fall asleep. Melatonin is most often used for treating jet lag. Melatonin takes few days, up to a few weeks to work when it is used for treating sleep problems.
Valerian is another supplement available to treat insomnia.
Talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking herbal, natural, or other supplemental products for insomnia.
Types of hypnotics (hypnotic drugs)
The FDA has approved five types of hypnotic medications for the treatment of sleep problems, which include:
- Nonbenzodiazepine receptor agonists
- Melatonin receptor agonists
- Orexin receptor agonist
These medications are all effective for treating sleep problems, but they work in different ways. Some sleep medicines only last a few hours (short-acting medications) while others last longer in the body (long-acting medications). Doctors and other health care professionals choose sleep medications based on the type of sleep problem you have. For example, people who have trouble falling asleep will benefit from a short-acting sleep medicine. People who have trouble staying asleep will benefit more from long-acting sleep drugs.
List and examples of brand and generic names of hypnotic drugs
There are over 40 different sedative/hypnotic drugs available. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional for any addition information about the generic forms available.
Melatonin receptor agonists
Non-benzodiazepine receptor agonists
The dose of these drugs vary. Talk to your doctor about the exact dose you need to fall asleep.
What drugs or supplements interact with hypnotics?
Are these drugs safe to take if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
- Researchers have not studied the effects of most hypnotics in pregnant women. Therefore, they should not be used if you are pregnant unless it is absolutely necessary. Pregnant women who have sleep problems should try improving their sleep hygiene, relaxation, and ways to reduce stress.
- Benzodiazepine use is harmful to the fetus when taken by pregnant women during their first trimester so you should avoid them if you are pregnant.
- Diphenhydramine may have a low risk of causing harm during pregnancy.
If you are pregnant discuss the use of these drugs with your doctor.
Hypnotics are sleep medications used to treat different types of insomnia.
There are a variety of hypnotic drugs, and they are grouped into five types. Benzodiazepines, nonbenzodiazepines,
selective melatonin agonists (these three drug types are classified as
sedatives), antidepressants, and an orexin receptor agonist. Some hypnotics can
be addictive and may cause withdrawal symptoms if discontinued abruptly.
The side effects of hypnotics depend upon the drug used, but they may include:
Other side effects may include:
Hypnotics may have serious side effects and adverse effects, for example:
- Abnormal thinking
- Suicidal thinking
- Sleep paralysis
- Sleep driving and other complex behavior
- Exfoliate dermatitis
Hypnotic drugs available over-the-counter (OTC) include diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and doxylamine (Unisom). Natural herbal supplements used for insomnia are melatonin and Valerian.
Do not drink alcohol while taking hypnotic drugs. Stimulants like caffeine or amphetamines reduce the effect of insomnia medications.
Your doctor or other health care professional will recommend the type of hypnotic drug for you depending upon the type of sleep problem you have, your current lifestyle habits, other medications you are taking, and any other medical problems you may have.
FDA. "Sleep Disorder (Sedative-Hypnotic) Drug Information." Updated: Jun 13, 2017.
Chawala, J, MD. "Insomnia Medication." Medscape. Updated: Aug 01, 2016.
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Treatment & Diagnosis
Medications & Supplements
- Benzodiazepines (Benzodiazepine Drug Class)
- trazodone (Desyrel brand has been discontinued in the US)
- diphenhydramine, Benadryl
- temazepam, Restoril
- mirtazapine, Remeron, Soltab
- doxepin (Sinequan and Adapin are discontinued brand in the US; Silenor)
- valerian (valeriana officinalis) - oral
- zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR, Zolpimist, Edluar, [Tovalt ODT has been discontinued])
- triazolam, Halcion
- ramelteon, Rozerem
- zaleplon, Sonata
- eszopiclone, Lunesta
- Belsomra (suvorexant)
- Benzodiazepines vs. Ambien
Prevention & Wellness
Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration
You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.
FDA Prescribing Information.
FDA. "Sleep Disorder (Sedative-Hypnotic) Drug Information." Updated: Jun 13, 2017.
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Benzodiazepine is the name of a class of drugs in the US. They belong to a class of man-made drugs prescribed to treat:
- Panic attacks
- Muscle spasms
Here is a list of examples of brand and generic names of benzodiazepines available in the US.
- alprazolam (Xanax)
- clobazam (Onfi)
- clonazepam (Klonopin)
- clorazepate (Tranxene)
- chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- diazepam (Valium)
- estazolam (Prosom)
- lorazepam (Ativan)
- oxazepam (Serax)
- temazepam (Restoril)
- triazolam (Halcion)
These drugs are habit forming and patients may become addicted to them even at prescribed doses. Side effects, drug interactions, dosage, storage, and pregnancy and breastfeeding safety should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is an OTC and prescription injection medication used to treat:
- hay fever,
- allergic conjunctivitis,
- motion sickness,
- and mild cases of Parkinsonism.
Side effects, drug interactions, dosage, storage, and pregnancy safety information should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
Drug AbuseDrug addiction is a chronic disease that causes drug-seeking behavior and drug use despite negative consequences to the user and those around him. Though the initial decision to use drugs is voluntary, changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse can affect a person's self-control and ability to make the right decisions and increase the urge to take drugs. Drug abuse and addiction are preventable.
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Problem SleepinessWhen sleepiness interferes with daily routines and activities, or reduces the ability to function, it is called "problem sleepiness." A person can have problem sleepiness without realizing it. Symptoms of problem sleepiness include: consistently don't get enough sleep, or poor quality sleep, fall asleep while driving, struggle to stay awake when inactive (like watching TV or reading), have difficulty paying attention or concentrating at work, school, or home, have poor performance problems at work or school, have difficulty remembering things, have slowed responses, have difficulty controlling your emotions, and/or if you have to take naps on most days.
A number of vital tasks carried out during sleep help maintain good health and enable people to function at their best. Sleep needs vary from individual to individual and change throughout your life. The National Institutes of Health recommend about 7-9 hours of sleep each night for older, school-aged children, teens, and most average adults; 10-12 for preschool-aged children; and 16-18 hours for newborns. There are two stages of sleep; 1) REM sleep (rapid-eye movement), and 2) NREM sleep (non-rapid-eye movement). The side effects of lack of sleep or insomnia include:
- Feeling sleepy during the day
- Concentration or memory problems
Lack of sleep and insomnia can be caused by medical conditions or diseases, medications, stress, or pain. The treatment for lack of sleep and insomnia depends upon the cause.
Sleep Aids And StimulantsInsomnia is difficulty in falling or staying asleep, the absence of restful sleep, or poor quality of sleep. Insomnia is a symptom and not a disease. The most common causes of insomnia are medications, psychological conditions, environmental changes and stressful events. Treatments may include non-drug treatments, over-the-counter medicines, and/or prescription medications.
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temazepamTemazepam (Restoril) is a drug prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. Side effects, drug interactions, warnings and precautions, and pregnancy efficacy should be reviewed prior to taking any medication.
Travel MedicineTravelers should prepare for their trip by visiting their physician to get the proper vaccinations and obtain the necessary medication if they have a medical condition or chronic disease. Diseases that travelers may pick up from contaminated water or food, insect or animal bites, or from other people include:
- meningococcal meningitis,
- yellow fever,
- hepatitis A,
- typhoid fever,
- polio, and
trazodoneTrazodone (Desyrel) is a medication prescribed for the treatment of depression; and also in combination with other drugs to treat panic attacks, aggressive behavior, agoraphobia, or cocaine withdrawal.