8 Questions to Ask Before Taking Sleeping Pills for Insomnia

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

How long have I had sleep issues?

Most of us will experience short-term sleep problems at some point in our lives. This is common. So if you've only been having trouble sleeping for a few nights or a couple of weeks, it’s a good idea to take note of your triggers and symptoms, but you do not have to panic and take pills just yet Elusive sleep can be caused by underlying conditions or even some unexpected sleep thieves such as pets. However, for sleeping issues that last longer than one month, it is a good idea to speak with your doctor so they can help.

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What does my doctor think?

Having a conversation with your doctor will help you achieve a proper diagnosis and assess whether an underlying condition is to blame for your insomnia. Your doctor will also know if a sleeping pill could interact with other drugs you may be taking. Instead of prescribing sleeping pills, your doctor may initially suggest some alternatives to medication and lifestyle changes to improve sleep.

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Could my insomnia be a symptom of an underlying health problem?

Insomnia can be a symptom of another condition such as anxiety, depression or even another sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea. Oftentimes, after treating the underlying condition, your sleep will usually improve without the need for sleeping pills.

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Am I eating well and getting enough exercise?

If you don't eat well or exercise well, your sleep can be affected. Make sure you eat a healthy diet rich in nutrients that will aid sleep, such as tryptophan, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C. A balanced diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables to provide essential vitamins and minerals has been associated with more restorative sleep. Regular exercise, best done early in the day, has also been found to improve sleep. Exercise releases tension to help you relax at bedtime.

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Do I have enough time to dedicate to sleep?

You should only take sleeping pills if you are able to dedicate a full night to sleep, long enough so the drug does not affect day-time functioning. If you take a sleeping pill too late in the evening or don't allow yourself enough time to sleep after taking the sleeping pill, you are more likely to suffer from impairment the following day. If you find that not getting enough sleep has become a habit, it's important to schedule more time to rest, to avoid harmful effects from sleep deprivation. If you are planning on taking sleeping pills, it is important to talk to your doctor about it’s half-life, an indicator of the time it takes for the medicine to be metabolized and excreted by your body.

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Am I prepared for the potential side-effects?

Commonly known as 'sleep drunkenness', sleeping pills can create a general sense of confusion and grogginess – especially if you take the medication without allowing your body enough time to process the drug. Other side-effects include headaches, nausea, abnormal thinking, hallucinations, sleepwalking and amnesia. When making the decision on whether or not pills are right for you, make sure to investigate all of your options, and be aware of the risks.

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Am I prepared to come off the sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills are not a long term solution. They do not address the root cause of insomnia and other sleep issues. They are a temporary band-aid. Taking sleeping pills on a nightly basis should be restricted to a short period of up to a month. Not only can you build up a tolerance to sleeping pills, we don't know the long-term effects they have on the body. When taking a break from sleeping pills, there are some alternative therapies that you can try for insomnia.

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Have I tried all the alternatives?

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is usually recommended as the best long-term solution for insomnia because it addresses the root cause of most sleep issues. If you suffer from long-term, chronic insomnia, you should discuss CBT with your doctor. The treatment requires more effort than popping a pill or two each night, but it's far more likely to address your sleep issues once and for all.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.