Sleep medications, also called "hypnotics", may be prescribed on occassion for the treatment of insomnia or to ensure restful sleep.

Prescription Sleep Medications

Prescription sleeping medications help you fall asleep easier, stay asleep longer, or both.

These medication are usually used for short periods of two weeks or less. If the first medication used does not help with sleep, you may be prescribe a different medication.

Your doctor will need to understand your particular sleep disorder and other medical problems before prescribing a particular medicine.

  • Ambien® (zolpidem) - May not be recommended for people with a history of depression, liver or kidney disease, or respiratory conditions. Ambien may lose its effectiveness if used for longer than two weeks.
  • Halcion® (triazolam) - Not recommend for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, or anyone with a history of drug abuse, depression or respiratory conditions. Halcion may interact with grapefruit juice, alcohol and many other medications. Can be habit forming and the medication must be withdrawn gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Its use has declined over the years because of side effects.
  • Lunesta® (eszopiclone) - May be used for a longer period of time than Ambien (zolpidem) or Sonata (zaleplon). May not be recommend for people with ave a history of drug or alcohol abuse, depression, lung disease, or a condition that affects metabolism. Consumption of food that are high in fat may slow the absorption of Lunesta and make it less effective. Stopping Lunesta suddenly may cause symptoms of withdrawal, such as anxiety, unusual dreams, stomach and muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and shakiness.
  • Rozerem® (ramelteon) - Rozerem is similar to melatnonin and not likely to be habit forming. May not be recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or anyone with history of sleep apnea or depression. May interact with alcohol. Consumption of food that are high in fat may slow the absorption of Rozerem and make it less effective.
  • Sonata® (zaleplon) - Sonata is very short acting. May not be recommend for people with liver disease or women who are pregnant, or anyone with a history of depression or respiratory conditions. Sonata can be habit-forming.

Nonprescription Sleep Medications

There are a variety of nonprescription products sold for the treatment of insomnia. Some of these contain active ingredients that can help improve sleep, but most lack any evidence that they are effective. They also may induce sleep, but may lead to sleep of poor quality that can leave someone feeling unrested by morning.

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®)
  • Doxylamine succinate (Nytol®, Unisom®)
  • Triprolidine hydrochloride (Actifed®)

Studies of antihistamines, such as Benadryl®, show that antihistamines do help patients sleep better. The studies included a control group who took a placebo.


Melatonin is a hormone that is released by the brain at night and helps to regulate circadian rhythms ("internal clock").

Melatonin may help some people feel sleepy in a mild way. This effect has not been found in all cases. It can help people who suffer from jet lag if taken at an appropriate time. The timing and amount of the melatonin required to provide any benefit appears to vary. No information exists on the long-term effects of melatonin use.

Herbal Sleep Medicines

There are many herbal supplements that have been marketed to help treat insomnia.
Some common products contain the following: valerian, chamomile, St. John's wort, kava kava,

Valerian root is the only one to be studied in clinical trials thus far and may have some mild benefit for helping a person to feel sleepy.

The use herbs for more than two week to induce sleep has not been evaluated. It is important ot note that herb also have potential bad side effects and may interact with other medications.

Alcohol - Not Effective

Some consume alcohol in the hopes that it will help them to sleep. However, alcohol can worsen the quality of sleep and lead to frequent night time awakening and less time in deep sleep. In short, alcohol can make alcohol worse and one of the major lifestyle changes to improve sleep is to reduce alcohol intake.

Reference: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Last updated May 2017

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your personal medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional.

Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.

Be sure to follow specific instructions given to you by your physician or health care professional.

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