Patients should carefully read the information labels for all drugs and follow the directions. Some sleeping pills take 30 - 60 minutes to take effect, while others (such as zolpidem) act quickly. For zolpidem, patients should:
- Take zolpidem immediately before going to sleep
- Take zolpidem only when able to get a full night’s sleep (7 - 8 hours)
- Not drink alcohol the same evening
- Not take more than the prescribed dose
- Use caution in the morning when getting out of bed, driving, or operating heavy machinery
Interactions. As with any hypnotics, alcohol increases the sedative effects of these drugs. These hypnotics also interact with other drugs, including rifampin, ketoconazole, erythromycin, and cimetidine. They may also interfere with or be interfered by other drugs. Patients should report all medications to their doctors.
Dependency, Withdrawal Symptoms, and Rebound Insomnia. The risk for rebound insomnia, dependence, and tolerance is lower with non-benzodiazepine hypnotics than with benzodiazepine drugs. These drugs are still subject to abuse. In any case, no hypnotic should be taken for more than 7 - 10 days or at higher than the recommended dose without a doctor's approval.
Benzodiazepines used to be the most commonly prescribed sedative hypnotics. Originally developed in the 1960s to treat anxiety, these drugs nonselectively target receptor sites in the brain that modulate the effects of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
The risk of tolerance and dependence is higher with this group of drugs than with non-benzodiazepine hypnotics.
Brands. Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines:
- Long-acting benzodiazepines include flurazepam (Dalmane), clonazepam (Klonopin), and quazepam (Doral).
- Medium- to short-acting benzodiazepines include triazolam (Halcion), lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), temazepam (Restoril), oxazepam (Serax), prazepam (Centrax), estazolam (ProSom), and flunitrazepam (Rohypnol). Short-acting benzodiazepines may be useful for air travelers who want to reduce the effects of jet lag.
Side Effects. Elderly people are more susceptible to side effects and should usually start at half the dose prescribed for younger people. They should not take long-acting forms.
Review Date: 06/11/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.