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The Dangers Of Sleeping Pills

by Landmark Recovery

July 15, 2019

If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, your doctor may end up prescribing you sleeping pills. While these pills can have obvious benefits and may help you get better sleep at night, there are a number of sleeping pill side effects that can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. In many cases, it can be better to treat the underlying cause, such as a medical condition or sleep disorder, which can be a much more effective approach than just treating the symptom of insomnia itself.

The use of prescription sleep aids is prevalent in the United States. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about four percent of adults use prescription sleeping pills each month. Moreover, about 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders and deprivation.

While these sleep issues can cause many problems for daily functioning and can adversely affect someone’s health, prescription medications can also lead to dangerous health consequences if not used properly. It is important to understand the differences between sleeping pills and the adverse health consequences associated with them.

What Is Insomnia?

Those who are prescribed sleeping pills are likely suffering from some type of sleep-related problem, the most notable of which is insomnia.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Unfortunately for those dealing with the problem, it can cause lethargy and a decline in energy level and mood that may, in turn, affect your health, work performance, and quality of life.

There is both short-term and long-term insomnia that can last for days or weeks and last for a month or more, respectively.


There are a number of potential causes that could be the root of the problem. Chronic insomnia can result due to a number of different reasons. Some common causes of insomnia include:

Stress — Stress is a major cause of insomnia. Problems at work, school, health, finances, and more can cause your mind to stay alert which can make it difficult to sleep. Moreover, stressful life events and trauma, like the death of a family member, can lead to insomnia.

Mental Disorders — There are many mental and psychiatric disorders that can be causing issues like insomnia. For example, depression may be the cause of someone’s poor sleep. Similarly, anxiety disorders may be keeping someone up at night.

Poor Sleep Habits — Having an unhealthy sleep schedule, taking too many naps, watching television, using a smartphone before bed, and more can all make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.

Eating Too Much — Some people make the common mistake of eating too much before bed. While a small snack is fine, overeating can make you feel physically uncomfortable while lying down. Many people may experience heartburn and other issues that can keep them awake.

Types of Sleeping Pills

There are a number of prescription, over-the-counter, and natural forms of sleep aid options for those who are suffering from sleep-related issues such as insomnia.

Antihistamines — Most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines. Antihistamines are known to significantly increase daytime sleepiness and nighttime sleep quality.

DiphenhydramineDiphenhydramine is a sedating antihistamine. There are a number of popular forms of this drug such as Benadryl, Aleve PM, and more. There are many potentially harmful side effects associated with diphenhydramine including dry mouth, nose, and throat, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, chest congestion, nervousness, and more. The problem can eventually become serious if you or a loved one experiences vision problems or painful urination call a doctor immediately.

Doxylamine Succinate — Like diphenhydramine, doxylamine succinate is a sedating antihistamine used to help with nighttime sleep efforts. Like most other sleeping pills, doxylamine can cause many side effects including drowsiness, headaches, nausea, nervousness, and more

Melatonin — Melatonin is a hormone in the body that helps to control your natural sleep cycle and circadian rhythm. Melatonin supplements can be helpful in treating issues like jet lag and can help minimize and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. While the effects of melatonin are mild, it can still lead to a number of different side effects including headaches and daytime sleepiness.

Valerian — Valerian is an herbal supplement that can help you fall asleep for those with insomnia. Valerian is a tall, flowering plant that can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and help you get better sleep quality. There are a number of different side effects that can occur from taking valerian. For example, headaches, dizziness, stomach problems, sleeplessness all can come from using this type of sleep aid.

Whatever type of sleeping aid that you may be using, it is important to learn more about what specific substances you are putting in your body as it may cause harmful side effects that can interfere with mental and physical health abilities.

Sleeping Pills Side Effects

Despite how helpful these medications can be, many sleep aids, such as antihistamines, carry a number of risks. It is best to discuss with a doctor or medical professional if these are safe options.

Sleeping pills can lead to a number of problems and can impact or worsen health conditions such as kidney disease, low blood pressure, problems with heart rhythm, and seizures.

One study published in Sleep Disorders research journal looked into the residual effects of sleep medication for insomnia patients. Residual effects were reported by about 80 percent of individuals who were using prescription sleep medication. Moreover, those who experienced residual sleep medication effects showed addition problems with medical comorbidities.

Moreover, sometimes people use sleeping pills along with other medications or substances, such as alcohol.

Sleeping Pills and Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most harmful substances for the body. It affects nearly every organ and can lead to a number of different issues and chronic illnesses, including cancer. Unfortunately, many people end up drinking while using other substances like prescription pills, including sleeping medication. The use of sleeping medication and alcohol can lead to a number of different problems and symptoms including drowsiness, sleepiness, dizziness, slowed or difficulty breathing, impaired motor control, memory problems, and more.

There are a number of risks associated with sleeping pills, especially for those taking sleeping pills many days in a row. One of the biggest risks is that you may start to depend on them and it may even cause dependence.


According to a New York Times article, sleeping pills can be habit-forming. In fact, people who take them but stop suddenly can show signs of psychological dependence and may feel a desire or urge to continue to take them. Unfortunately, for people who stop taking the medication, insomnia can return. This is why it is so important to find other behavioral treatments and positive sleep hygiene strategies to help improve sleep-related problems.

For those who have built a dependence or tolerance to sleeping pills, medication will have to be withdrawn and the patient will have to taper off the medication slowly over a period of a few weeks in order to reduce any psychological dependence and withdrawal symptoms of the drug.

Sleeping Tips

While sleeping aids, if used properly, can be helpful in falling asleep faster and sleeping longer, there are a number of other ways, more natural ways to get better sleep. Forming healthy sleep habits could eliminate the need for someone to use sleeping aids and can even make therapy unnecessary. Some healthy sleep habits that can be beneficial to form include:

Follow A Schedule — One of the easiest ways that you can improve your sleep and get good quality sleep is to create a sleep/wake schedule for yourself and stick to it. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on the weekends or while you are on vacation. This will work to get your circadian rhythm back working correctly.

Avoid Late-Day Naps — Napping late in the day like in the late afternoon or evening can interfere with your ability to fall and stay asleep. While naps can help to keep you fresh and renewed, just make sure that you aren’t taking them too often and you aren’t taking them too late in the day as it may keep you up late at night.

Create A Bedtime Routine — There are many relaxing bedtime things that you can do right before you fall asleep to easier induce sleep. For example, doing things like reading a book, listening to relaxing music, or taking a bath can all help you calm your mind and your body down and improve your ability to fall and stay asleep.

Avoid Screens — While technology can be nice, it is important that you limit your time in front of screens as it can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Using television, your computer, or your phone before you go to bed can make it difficult for you to fall asleep. Moreover, movies that are unnerving, like scary movies, can keep you awake at night.

Don’t Use Alcohol — Alcohol is one substance that can make sleeping a problem. While alcohol may be able to help induce sleep, it can get in the way of staying asleep. Alcohol can lead to a multitude of health issues and can cause addiction. Luckily there are many resources available to help you learn how to stop drinking. Programs like 12-step and treatment centers can help you overcome these issues.

While sleeping pills can be an effective way to avoid sleep-related issues, there are many other options that may prove to be safer and more cost-effective. For example, counseling and therapy may be a great option.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an option for those dealing with problems like insomnia. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, CBT usually works at least as well as sleeping pills and it doesn’t carry the same risks. Most people sleep better with CBT and can learn better sleep habits including creating a sleep schedule, quitting TV before bed, and learning how to calm the mind when you’re trying to fall asleep.

Moreover, CBT may even cost less than sleeping pills. While pills may only cost up to $60 a week, it will be a continuous cost. Whereas, CBT may only take six one-hour sessions.

If the problem is severe enough, you may even want to see a sleep physician for a sleep study in which your body is observed as you sleep. A sleep study will help identify any specific health problems, such as sleep apnea, you may have that could be interfering with your ability to fall asleep.

However you choose to improve your sleep length and quality, just be sure that it is something that you are prioritizing. Getting quality sleep is important for your physical and mental health.

Next Steps

Sleep is an incredibly important body function that helps regulate things like stress and fatigue. However, many people across the United States have problems falling and staying asleep which can cause many issues with a person’s mental and physical health. Because of this, many people turn to sleep aids and supplements to help induce sleep. With that said, these types of medications and pills can lead to harmful side effects that can also be problematic for someone’s health. In some cases, it can lead to dependence while others may be mixing these sleep medications with other substance like alcohol which can prove to be a dangerous combination.

If you or a loved one is mixing substances like sleeping pills and alcohol, it may be best to look for a treatment center that can help your loved one overcome whatever substance abuse issues they may be dealing with. Landmark Recovery is one organization that can help through the use of medical detoxification, inpatient treatment, and an intensive outpatient program. If you are interested in learning more about what Landmark can offer, please visit our website and reach out to our Indiana treatment center admissions team today.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.