Rest easy knowing if you take your prescription correctly, it’s completely safe. Here are the basic rules to follow.
Christina Frank,Mar 19, 2020 • 3 min read
If you struggle with frequent insomnia, you’re likely familiar with the blissful relief sleep medications can provide. But you may also wonder if you’re making a trade-off by sacrificing safety for zzz’s.
As with most things, safety depends on how you use sleeping pills and how large a dose you take, explains Shuhan He, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Water can be deadly if you drink too much of it, but you need it to survive,” says Dr. He. “Sleep is also necessary to the fundamental function of the body. Sleep medications can help, but only if used properly.”
Read on to find out how to mitigate the most common risks of sleeping pills, plus the dos and don'ts of dosage and use.
Risks of Sleeping Pills
You already know the benefits of sleep meds. Here are some of the riskier side effects:
Daytime drowsiness: Sometimes sleep medications can leave you with a hangover-like feeling. Drowsiness during the day can be dangerous, especially when driving.
Sleepwalking: According to Dr. He, there are wide variations in how a prescription like zolpidem (Ambien) will affect a specific individual. Your doctor will be able to assess those risks with you, taking into account your entire health history before writing a prescription. And if sleepwalking does become an issue for you, it’s important to mention it to your healthcare provider, as they can prescribe a lighter dose or find a better sleep medication for you.
Dependency: Within weeks of chronic use, tolerance to the pharmacological effects of a drug can develop. This is most common with benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax), which are usually prescribed for anxiety but also for insomnia due to the sedating effect. Your doctor will help you figure out how long to take a sleep aid before it becomes a problem.
Sleeping Pill Dos
Do take sleep medications exactly as directed. Your doctor will advise you on which type to use, the proper dose, and the best way to take it.
Do time them properly. It’s especially important to take medications that are intended to treat insomnia (versus those that simply cause drowsiness as a side effect) once you are in bed for the night. Some can take as little as 15 minutes to start working.
Do follow packaging guidelines: Read the printed information that comes with your prescription to make sure you are storing and taking your sleeping pills properly (which may include directions like taking it with food, etc.) so that your prescription is as effective as possible.
Sleeping Pill Don’ts
Don’t mix sleep medications with alcohol or other sleep drugs, which can intensify the effects. Your doctor can also advise you on any potential interactions with other medications you may be taking.
Don’t take a larger dose than recommended, even if you’re still experiencing insomnia. Instead talk to your doctor to see if you need a different strength of your prescription or another drug completely.
Don’t change or stop your medication without consulting your doctor, especially if you have been taking it consistently for a long time.
You can also pair your sleeping pill prescription with alternative approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation exercises, and good sleep hygiene habits (for instance, no screens within an hour before sleeping) to establish and maintain healthy sleep patterns long-term. If you’ve been prescribed a medication like zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), or temazepam (Restoril) to help you sleep, fill it through Blink Health to check for savings and have your meds delivered free.