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What about sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills are not usually advised
The main types of sleeping pills are in a class of medicines called benzodiazepines. In the past, sleeping pills were commonly prescribed. However, they have been shown to have negative side effects.

Possible problems with sleeping pills include:

  • Drowsiness the next day. You may not be safe to drive or to operate machinery.
  • Clumsiness and confusion in the night if you have to get up. For example, if you have had a sleeping pill, you may fall over if you get up in the night to go to the toilet. (Older people who take sleeping pills have an increased risk of falling).
  • Tolerance to sleeping pills may develop if you take them regularly. This means that, in time, the usual dose has no effect. You then need a higher dose to help with sleep. In time, the higher dose then has no effect, and so on.
  • Some people become dependent (addicted) on sleeping pills, and have withdrawal symptoms if the tablets are stopped suddenly.

Sometimes a sleeping pill is advised
If a sleeping pill is prescribed, it is usually just a short course (a week or so) to get over a particularly bad patch. Sometimes a doctor will advise sleeping pills to be taken on only two or three nights per week, rather than on every night. This prevents tolerance or dependence to the tablet from developing.

Melatonin is, strictly speaking, not a sleeping pill. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone made by the body. The level of melatonin in the body varies throughout the day. It is involved in helping to regulate the daily cycles (circadian rhythms) of various functions in the body. A melatonin supplement is sometimes helpful for jet-lag on a short-term basis.

Some antihistamines can make you sleepy and are sold over the counter for this purpose. They are not designed specifically for sleep, but cause drowsiness as a side-effect. These should only be used for short periods of time. Long-term use will make it difficult when they are stopped. They can leave you feeling groggy the next day and there is not much evidence about how well they work.

Valerian and other herbal remedies are not recommended
Herbal remedies are used by some people to help with sleep. For example, valerian. However, research studies have shown that there is very little evidence to show that they work. Therefore, they are not recommended.