Sleeping pills are sedatives that can help people who are suffering from insomnia. Many people rely on them to get a good night’s sleep, but sleeping pill side effects and addiction may be a concern. For the most part, these medications are meant to be used for short periods to limit the chances that they will be habit-forming or have harmful effects.
There are multiple types of sleeping pills that each work in different ways. Some sleeping pills, including anti-anxiety benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium, are fairly likely to cause physical dependence and addiction. Others, like Lunesta and Ambien, are less likely to cause dependence. Some new types of sleeping pills, such as Rozerem and Silenor, are non-addictive. People who are worried about sleeping pill addiction should talk to their doctor to learn more about options that won’t cause physical dependence.
Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Misuse
Sleeping pill misuse happens when someone takes their sleeping pill medication outside of its prescribed use. The misuse might include taking sleeping pills without a prescription, taking them longer than recommended by a doctor or taking them at higher doses than what was prescribed.
It might be difficult to tell if someone is misusing sleep aids. Sleeping pill abuse symptoms consist of:
- Slurred speech
- Balance problems
- Walking unsteadily
- Problems with memory and concentration
Sleeping pill misuse can become habit-forming and eventually lead to addiction. Abuse of prescription sleep aids should be addressed before more harmful side effects occur.
Signs of Sleeping Pill Addiction
When someone becomes mentally dependent on sleeping pills, they may feel like they can’t go without the drugs and become anxious if they try to reduce or eliminate their sleeping pill use. It may be hard to transition back into sleeping without any aids. However, using sleeping pills over long periods usually makes a person sleep worse. People should only use these medications for a short time. Signs of sleeping pill addiction may include:
- Needing to use sleeping pills every night
- Becoming tolerant to the prescribed dose and needing to use larger doses to feel an effect
- Craving sleeping pills
- Ignoring personal relationships or responsibilities
- Acting confused, withdrawn or depressed
- Taking sleeping pills to try to get high, rather than to try to go to sleep
- Needing to refill a prescription early because someone took sleeping pills too often or at too high a dose
A person’s risk of addiction is lowered if they take sleeping pills exactly as prescribed. Anyone who has a personal or family history of substance misuse may want to avoid sleeping pills altogether. Adopting other healthy habits, including exercising, limiting caffeine consumption, avoiding electronic screens before bedtime and getting in the habit of waking and going to bed at the same time every day can improve a person’s sleep quality without the use of potentially addictive drugs.
Sleeping Pill Side Effects
It’s important to not underestimate sleeping pill side effects. Sometimes, symptoms can be severe and potentially dangerous. Anyone taking sleeping pills should watch out for negative effects and avoid using these drugs if they experience problems.
The risk of experiencing harmful side effects may increase if sleeping pills are combined with certain substances. Anyone taking other medications should talk to their doctor or pharmacist to learn about any potential drug interactions. Additionally, sleep aids should not be combined with alcohol. Both sleeping pills and alcohol are sedatives, and if they are combined they could severely slow down crucial processes like breathing. People shouldn’t mix sleeping pills with grapefruit. This fruit increases the levels of medication in a person’s bloodstream and could cause someone to be exposed to too high a dose.
People who have health issues that affect their breathing should be extra careful when they take sleeping pills. These medications can alter people’s breathing while they sleep and could have potentially dangerous side effects in people who have disorders like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema.
Those who want to try sleeping pills should also be aware of what an allergic reaction looks like. If someone experiences blurred vision, chest pain, breathing problems, itching or a pounding heartbeat following sleeping pill use, they may be allergic to the medication. If any side effects seem severe, seek medical attention.
Sleeping pills may affect the body in several ways. People who take these drugs may notice:
- Dry mouth
- Digestive problems like gas, constipation or diarrhea
- Appetite changes
- Tingling sensations in the hands or feet
- Balance problems and dizziness
- Muscle weakness
- Shaking or tremors
People should stop taking this medication and talk to their doctor if they are experiencing side effects from sleep aids. Sometimes, these symptoms can be a sign of a bigger issue, or they can lead to more serious complications.
One way to lower the risk of sleeping pill side effects is to make sure to take the medication exactly as prescribed. Taking higher doses can lead to more harmful effects. Additionally, people having trouble with side effects from one drug may have better luck if they switch to another. Different categories of sleeping pills affect different processes in the brain and trying a different medication may produce milder or more severe side effects. People don’t know which sleeping pills are more likely to be effective or less likely to cause side effects until they try them, and some people may have to try a few different types before they find one that suits them.
How do sleeping pills affect the brain? Those who take sleeping pills regularly may find that they experience:
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Vivid dreams
Sleeping pills can also cause parasomnias. These sleep disorders consisting of unusual behaviors, emotions and perceptions that occur while someone is falling asleep, sleeping or waking up. Examples include sleepwalking, nightmares, night terrors, teeth grinding and talking in one’s sleep. People often don’t know when they are experiencing parasomnias. However, if there is any indication that someone is experiencing this side effect, they should talk to their doctor. Parasomnias can sometimes take the form of more extreme and potentially dangerous behavior like eating, driving or having sex while asleep.
Someone who has become physically dependent on sleeping pills may feel withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop using them. Additionally, a person may find that the drugs become less effective over time as their body adapts to the presence of the medication. If a person becomes physically dependent on sleeping pills, they will probably experience some withdrawal symptoms once they stop using them.
The most common side effects of sleeping pill withdrawal are insomnia and anxiety. If a person has trouble sleeping once they stop using a sleep aid, they may think that it’s impossible for them to sleep without the medication. However, this is usually a temporary withdrawal symptom that will eventually go away once sleeping pill use is halted. Other sleeping pill withdrawal side effects include bizarre dreams, restlessness and shivering.
Sleeping pills overdose symptoms are:
- Extreme tiredness
- Difficulty breathing
- Stomach pain
- Clumsiness or loss of coordination
Anyone who suspects a sleeping pill overdose should seek emergency medical care right away. Overdosing on sleeping pills can be fatal. Side effects of a sleeping pill overdose may worsen and result in brain damage if left untreated.
Sleeping Pill Abuse Facts and Statistics
Nearly a third of adults and three-quarters of high school students report not getting enough sleep, so it’s easy to see why people want to turn to medications to help deal with insomnia or other sleep issues. A 2010 study reported that about one in eight people who said they had trouble sleeping used sleep aids. Additional statistics include:
- Overall: About 4% of adults in the United States used sleeping pills within a month prior to the study.
- Prevalence in Men: 3.1% of men surveyed said that they use sleeping pills.
- Prevalence in Women: About 5% of women surveyed reported using prescription sleep aids.
- Teen Abuse: 5% of teens surveyed used a prescription sleeping pill. In one poll, 28% of parents reported that their teen had tried some type of medication for sleeping difficulties.
- Senior Abuse: Generally, the older someone is, the more likely they are to use sleep aids. People ages 80 and older reported the highest use of sleeping pills, with 7% of people in this age range saying they used prescription sleep aids in the last month.
No sleeping pills are approved for use in children. However, some kids who have trouble sleeping might be given anti-allergy medication, which might make them drowsy. Some healthcare providers recommend that children use melatonin, but this supplement hasn’t been well-studied in children. Additionally, teens who are prescribed anti-anxiety or sleeping pills are up to 12 times more likely to abuse them later on.
How to Stop Using Sleeping Pills
When people go through withdrawal, they are at a high risk of relapsing because they experience intense cravings and because they may have a desire to use again to help other symptoms disappear. One thing that can help is tapering sleeping pills by gradually taking smaller and smaller doses over time. For some medications, including benzodiazepines like Xanax, tapering is difficult to manage on one’s own and withdrawal symptoms may be more severe. People who have been using more addictive sleeping pills or who have a more severe dependence on sleeping pills may not be able to safely or successfully stop using them on their own. If someone is not sure how to stop using sleeping pills, they can talk to a healthcare professional to learn about:
- Detox: Sleeping pill detox may last for a couple of weeks. During this time, doctors may slowly wean a person off of the medication until there is no drug left in their body. Going through detox at a medical facility gives people access to medical care in case something goes wrong and they experience severe withdrawal symptoms. This approach also makes people more likely to avoid setbacks.
- Rehab: Inpatient and outpatient rehab programs provide participants with many opportunities to learn more about addiction, develop healthier behaviors and come up with strategies to help prevent a setback. These programs may involve individual therapy and group counseling as well as educational classes and treatment for other co-occurring mental health disorders.
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Key Points: Understanding the Signs and Effects of Sleeping Pill Addiction
Keep the following key points in mind when considering sleeping pill addiction:
- Many people suffer from sleeping problems. There are ways people can try to improve their sleep quality and people should try those other options before turning to sleeping pills because of the addictive potential of these medications.
- To decrease the likelihood of sleeping pill addiction, people should take their medications exactly as prescribed
- People who become preoccupied with sleeping pill use, have cravings for sleeping pills or take increasingly higher doses of sleep aids may be struggling with sleeping pill dependence or addiction.
- Sleeping pill side effects can potentially be severe. Anyone who is experiencing problems while taking sleeping pills should talk to their doctor. Switching to another type of sleep aid may help people have fewer side effects.
- Going through medical detox and rehab is the safest and most effective way to break free from a sleeping pill addiction.
Contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak with a representative about how professional addiction treatment can address a substance used disorder. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
Chong, Yinong; Fryar, Cheryl D.; Gu, Qiuping. “Prescription Sleep Aid Use Among Adults: United States, 2005–2010.” NCHS Data Brief No. 127, August 2013. Accessed August 31, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sleep Health.” August 31, 2018. Accessed August 31, 2019.
Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. “Using medication: What can help when tring to stop taking sleeping pills and sedatives?” InformedHealth.org, August 10, 2017. Accessed August 31, 2019.
National Poll on Children’s Health. “Mott Poll Report.” September 17, 2018. Accessed August 31, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.