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For people who have insomnia, sleeping pills are often the only way they can get any sleep. But pills for insomnia can be addictive, so it’s important to be careful and learn as much about sleeping pills as you can before you take them. It is important to identify or rule out medical and psychological causes before deciding on the treatment for insomnia. Attention to sleep hygiene is an important strategy and should be tried before any pharmacological approach is considered. Whilst pharmacological treatments have been used mainly to reduce symptoms in acute insomnia; their role in the management of chronic insomnia remains unclear.
Most over-the-counter sleeping pills contain antihistamine, a drug that is generally taken for allergies, hay fever and common cold symptoms. Histamine is a chemical messenger in the brain that promotes wakefulness – antihistamines can therefore make some people feel sleepy.
There are a number of over-the-counter antihistamine sleeping pill brands in the UK. These include: Nytol, Sominex, Sleepinal, and Unisom. These over-the-counter sleeping pills can have side effects such as severe drowsiness the next day and should be used only in the short-term treatment of insomnia.
Prescription sleeping pills are generally classed as benzodiazepines or Z drugs. Prescription brands include: ProSom, Dalmane, Halcion, Sonata, and Amien. Prescription sleeping pills and over-the-counter pills both work on the same principal, affecting brain receptors to slow down the nervous system.
Like over-the-counter sleeping pills, prescription sleeping pills have drawbacks. People can become dependent on the drugs and, if over-used, sleeping pills can quickly lose their effectiveness. They can also cause a hangover effect with many people feeling drowsy the next day after taking sleeping pills. Other side effects can include headaches, constipation, dizziness and trouble
NHS - Insomnia [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 April 2012].
10732 Revised November 2012comments powered by Disqus