- How Do They Work?
- Side Effects
- Drug Interactions
- Brand and Generic Drugs
- OTC and Herbal Drugs
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.
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.
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:
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 additional information about the generic forms available.
Melatonin receptor agonists
Non-benzodiazepine receptor agonists
The dose of these drugs varies. Talk to your doctor about the exact dose you need to fall asleep.
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 a 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.
Can I drink alcohol if I'm taking a hypnotic drug?
Do not drink alcohol before or after taking a sleep medication because drinking alcohol while using a sleep medication or sedative may lead to severe drowsiness.
Are hypnotics addictive?
Benzodiazepines are addictive hypnotics and are federally controlled substances. People can develop physical dependence after several days of taking them, and the risk is higher during long-term use.
Are these drugs safe to take if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
- Researchers have not studied the effects of most hypnotics on 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.
Multimedia: Slideshows, Images & Quizzes
Sleep Disorders: Insomnia, Sleep Apnea, and More
Learn about the different types of sleep/wake disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea. Explore the symptoms,...
Prescription Drug Abuse: Addiction, Health Risks, and Treatments
Learn how prescription drug and over-the-counter (OTC) drug abuse can endanger your health. Get the latest information on...
Healthy Aging: How to Live a Longer Life
What is the best diet for longevity? What's the secret to living longer? Do vegetarians live longer? How can you live a longer...
Top Reasons Your Child Can't Sleep, Including You
From snoring and nightmares to sleep apnea and even you, see the bad habits that are keeping your child up all night.
Sleep Better, Conquer Insomnia
What is insomnia? Insomnia by definition is trouble falling or staying asleep. Insomnia causes are varied. Learn 10 tips on how...
Sleep Quiz: Sleep Hygiene & Sleep Facts
Take our Sleeping Quiz to learn which sleep disorders, causes, and symptoms rule the night. Trouble falling or staying asleep?...
20 Tips to Beat Insomnia and Sleep Better
Good sleep hygiene leads to better sleep. Avoid insomnia and sleep better by minimizing stress, exercising, and taking proper...
Prescription Drug Abuse: Know The Warning Signs
Learn about prescription drug abuse facts and statistics about the dangers and misconceptions of abusing common prescription...
Travel Health Slideshow: 25 Ways to Stay Well Abroad
Explore travel health tips and vaccines to prevent disease while abroad. Learn to protect yourself against malaria, hepatitis,...
Teen Drug Abuse: Warning Signs, Statistics, and Facts
Teen drug abuse is a growing concern today. Learn statistics, facts, warning signs, and effects related to teen substance abuse...
Night Shift: Jobs That Can Ruin Your Sleep
Some jobs can lead to sleep problems like insomnia, especially for graveyard and other shift work. Learn how work can disrupt...
Related Disease Conditions
Drug Abuse and Addiction
Drug abuse and 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.
Sleep apnea is defined as a reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep. The three types of sleep apnea are central apnea, obstructive apnea (OSA), and a mixture of central and obstructive apnea. Central sleep apnea is caused by a failure of the brain to activate the muscles of breathing during sleep. OSA is caused by the collapse of the airway during sleep. OSA is diagnosed and evaluated through patient history, physical examination and polysomnography. There are many complications related to obstructive sleep apnea. Treatments are surgical and non-surgical.
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).
Jet lag (desynchonosis) is a temporary disorder that results from travel across time zones. Symptoms include anxiety, constipation, headache, nausea, dehydration, diarrhea, confusion, sweating, irritability, and even memory loss.
Sleep Disorders in Children and Teenagers
Sleep needs in children and teenagers depend on the age of the child. Sleep disorders in children such as: sleep apnea, parasomnias, confusional arousals, night terrors, nightmares, narcolepsy, and sleepwalking which can affect a child's or teen's sleep. Healthy sleep habits and good sleep hygiene can help your infant, toddler, preschooler, tween, or teenager get a good night's sleep.
Teen Drug Abuse
Drugs commonly abused by teens include tobacco products, marijuana, cold medications, inhalants, depressants, stimulants, narcotics, hallucinogens, PCP, ketamine, Ecstasy, and anabolic steroids. Some of the symptoms and warning signs of teen drug abuse include reddened whites of eyes, paranoia, sleepiness, excessive happiness, seizures, memory loss, increased appetite, discolored fingertips, lips or teeth, and irritability. Treatment of drug addiction may involve a combination of medication, individual, and familial interventions.
Insomnia Treatment (Sleep Aids and Stimulants)
Insomnia 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.
Travelers 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: malaria, meningococcal meningitis, yellow fever, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, polio, and cholera.
Sleep Related Breathing Disorders
Sleep-related breathing disorders are characterized by disruptions of normal breathing patterns that only occur during sleep. Snoring and sleep apnea are the most common sleep-related breathing disorders.
Why Am I Having Trouble Sleeping at Night?
Having repeated difficulty with sleep initiation, maintenance or poor quality of sleep that occurs despite adequate time and opportunity for sleep, resulting in some form of daytime impairment is called insomnia.
How Do You Get Rid of Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless Leg Syndrome is an often uncontrollable urge to twitch and move your legs – especially when sitting or lying down. It isn’t curable and the cause is unclear, but it’s a neurological problem that researchers theorize may result from a lack of iron in the brain or a physiological in processing and using iron.
What Are the Four Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can potentially lead to serious systemic health complications. It is a condition that causes a person to intermittently stop breathing during sleep. Warning signs of sleep apnea include snoring, nighttime gasping, intermittent pauses during sleep, and daytime sleepiness.
How to Fall Asleep Fast
If you cannot fall asleep within 20-30 minutes of getting into bed or stay wide awake even after being extremely tired, then here are some tips.
Are Sleeping Pills Bad for You?
Sleeping pills are sedatives that may help people who are suffering from transient sleeping troubles. These medications are meant to be used for short periods. However, the overuse of sleeping pills has many side effects. It can lead to addiction, which is a major concern. There are multiple types of sleeping pills that work in different ways.
What Are the Three Types of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can potentially lead to serious health complications. In sleep apnea, the person may stop breathing for some time during sleep. The three kinds of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and mixed sleep apnea.
What Are the 8 Types of Sleep Disorders?
Here are the 8 most common types of sleep disorders, which include obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, and narcolepsy.
What Is the Best Home Remedy for Sleep?
Most adults need at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night in order to maintain overall health. Here are the best home remedies for improving sleep and fighting insomnia.
What Is the Best Natural Sleep Aid?
If you have sleeping issues, below mentioned sleep aids may help. Simple changes in your daily habits can often help induce sleep quickly.
How Much Sleep Does an Adult Need?
Getting meaningful and adequate sleep is also very important for adults to function properly. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and Sleep Research Society (SRS) recommends that every person over the age of twenty sleep seven or more hours a night.
Treatment & Diagnosis
Medications & Supplements
- mirtazapine (Remeron, Soltab)
- temazepam (Restoril)
- triazolam (Halcion)
- zolpidem (Ambien)
- doxepin (Sinequan and Adapin are discontinued brand in the US; Silenor)
- valerian (valeriana officinalis) - oral
- zaleplon (Sonata)
- ramelteon (Rozerem)
- eszopiclone (Lunesta)
- Belsomra (suvorexant)
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. "Sleep Disorder (Sedative-Hypnotic) Drug Information." Updated: Jun 13, 2017.