Sleeping Pills Side Effects

Sleeping Pills have side effects.  

Sleep medications are also associated with a number of other serious problems. 

I’m often asked “why natural?”, and why do I only talk about natural ways to sleep better.

Here is my detailed answer.

Please take the time to read it carefully, and follow the links to independently review the information that has been posted here to come to your own conclusions, for your own particular case history.

I’ll be updating this list from time to time, so come back every now and then to see what else we find – because the list keeps growing.  As soon as I think I’ve finished, I find MORE reasons to implement natural ways to sleep better.

Scary, I know…

As a matter of disclosure, please do not think that every sleeping pill has every side effect or negative association that is on this list.

You will need to look at your specific medications to get a fuller understanding for your individual case. e.g. not all sleeping pills have half lives of over 15 hours, for example.  (And please note that we are not recommending short half life medications over long half life medications.)

AND IMPORTANTLY if after reading this information you do want to come off, or reduce your medication/s NEVER do it without medical advice and supervision – because some problems actually are triggered by incorrect withdrawal techniques.  This is not a flippant warning, it needs to be taken seriously.

Side effects of sleeping pillsThis information is largely about “sleeping pills” – but a number of medications are prescribed and/or used for sleeping problems.  e.g. anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications are sometimes prescribed to people having trouble sleeping.

Some anti-anxiety medications are regarded as ‘sleeping pills’, there is some cross-over of definitions – particularly in conversational use.

Here is Wikipedia’s list of psychotropic medications listed for anxiety – you will notice some medications there that are used for sleeping.

Not used correctly these medications can become part of the problem rather than the solution.

24 Facts Everyone should Know about Sleeping Pills:


1.  Sleeping Pills will never address the underlying problem that lies beneath a sleep disorder.

Insomnia is always a symptom of something else.

Insomnia itself is not the problem, its existence shows us that there is a problem – but doesn’t actually reveal what the underlying problem is.

That is the part that insomnia sufferers have to find out, in order to ‘cure’ their insomnia.

2.  Sleeping pills mask the symptom(s) of insomnia and sleep disorders.

This means that it is more difficult to diagnose what the underlying problem(s) is(are).

By taking sleeping pills you are generally delaying the solution.

If you become addicted to sleeping pills that delay can increase.

3.  Sleeping Pills are addictive.

Sleeping pills are to be taken exactly as directed, and only for as long as directed.

“Addictive” means that they are less effective over time and have withdrawal symptoms.

Addictive also means that you will need progressively more to get the same result over time.

One benzodiazepine being prescribed for anxiety has been described as “more addictive and harder to kick than heroin”.

Source:  Anxiety Nation, Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend Magazine, July 14, 2012.  Julie-Anne Davies.

The Australian National Prescribing Service recommends that doctors who prescribe sleeping pills discuss a stopping plan for the hypnotic medicine at the time of the initial prescription.  Accessed September 2, 2012.

Because of their addictive qualities sleeping pills can become part of the problem, not the solution.

4.  One of the withdrawal symptoms when you try to come off sleeping pills is rebound insomnia.

Rebound insomnia is a withdrawal symptom of coming off sleeping pills Rebound Insomnia


When you come off them you can get rebound insomnia, which makes you think that the pills were “working”, and you need to go back on them – when it is just the ‘rebound insomnia’ side effect that is presenting.


5.  Sleeping pills have a variety of side-effects:

The side effects include:

Anxiety side effect Anxiety Side-Effect
  • Grogginess in the morning
  • Headache
  • Pain
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Myalgia
  • Dyspepsia
  • Backpain
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Rage reactions
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Drugged feeling
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Memory disorders
  • Peculiar or bitter taste
  • Dry mouth
  • Changes in certain hormone levels, including testosterone and prolactin

Source:  Richardson G, Wang-Weigand S. Effects of long-term exposure to ramelteon, a melatonin receptor agonist, on endocrine function in adults with chronic insomnia. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2009 Mar; 24(2):103-11.  And the Australian National Prescribing Service website.

These changes could lead to sexual side effects, including decreased libido, milk-like nipple discharge, fertility problems

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision
And some more serious side effects include allergic reactions which require urgent emergency attention.  They include swelling of the face, lips, mouth or throat which may cause difficulty swallowing or breathing; hives; fainting.


6.  “All hypnotics, at some doses, produce decrements in performance the next day.Higher doses consistently showed a decrement, and this decrement was usually persistent over the entire day.”

(Source:  Sedative-hypnotics and Human Performance.  Laverne C Johnson and Doris A Chernik.)

Sleeping Pills have a half-life.  The length of time of the half-life can reach 24 hours in some cases.  The half-life of a medication is the time it takes for half of the active components of the drug to go out of your system.

This means that, in the 24 hour example, it takes 24 hours to eliminate half of the active components of the drug from your body.

The expression ‘half-life’ means that the dissipation of the active ingredients does not follow a straight line but a curve.  It is the shape of a reverse exponential curve.  (I hope I haven’t lost some of you here… stay with us!)

This also means that for the other 50% of the components to leave your body, it takes much more than twice the length of the initial half-life period of time.

Here is a graph of how half lives work.  It is an example only, for your information – it is not related to sleeping pills.

Notice that the second half-life is longer than the first, and the third half-life is longer than the second half-life.

7.  The sleeping pills with a short half-life aren’t necessarily any better than the ones with a long half-life.

If you investigate the information from one sleeping pill to another you will notice that some of the warnings that relate to the short half-life medications can be stronger than those attached to the longer half-life medications.

Here is a page that shows the half lives of some sleeping medications:

8.  One sleeping pill was the most complained about medication to the Australian Medicines Event Line run by the National Prescribing Service and Brisbane’s Mater Hospital between September 2007 and February 2009.

Of 1669 calls, 196 (or 12%) related to this one sleeping pill.  (670% more calls than second on the list!).

Source:  the Sun-Herald Sunday May 10, 2009.

9.  “Sleeping tablets usually make sleep problems worse, not better, in the long term.”

Source:  The Australian National Prescribing Service Limited,_sleep_tight. Accessed September 13, 2012.

10.  In spite of the National Prescribing Service recommending people investigate all possible avenues before using sleeping pills, the actual prescribing behaviour of medical practitioners in Australia shows a wide variance from those recommendations.

Here is what is ACTUALLY happening in Australia:

  • For new cases of insomnia being reported 81.7 percent were prescribed medications.
  • Generally 95.2 percent were prescribed medications.
  • Coupled with lower than normal rates of advice, higher prescribing rates (normally 54.5%), considerably lower referral rates and significantly lower pathology tests.

Source:  BEACH (Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health) program between April 2006 and March 2008, J. Charles, C Harrison, H Britt. Australian GP Statistics & Classification Centre, University of Sydney, New South Wales.

11.  Viewed as a group, sleeping pills will reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by 12.8 minutes compared with fake pills.

Source:  Sleep Drugs Found Only Mildly Effective, but Wildly Popular, Stephanie Saul, New York Times October 23, 2007.  Accessed August 2, 2012.

12.  Viewed as a group, sleeping pills increase your sleep time by 11.4 minutes.

Source:  Sleep Drugs Found Only Mildly Effective, but Wildly Popular, Stephanie Saul, New York Times October 23, 2007.  Accessed August 2, 2012.

13.  Sleeping pills have been blamed for some bizarre behaviors.

Driving While Asleep is one of the bizarre behaviours Driving While Asleep

The following weird and bizarre behaviours (parasomnias) have been connected to the use of sleeping pills.

  • Sleepwalking,
  • Sleep-eating and cooking,
  • Making phone calls,
  • Having sex while not fully awake,
  • Behaving abnormally,
  • Driving while asleep – see 20 below.

Often, people do not remember these events.

In March 2007 in Sydney it was reported that an Australian federal health watchdog was to review the safety of a certain sleeping pill following the death of a man who had, allegedly, fallen to his death from his 12th floor unit (and had allegedly been prescribed a sleeping tablet).  Source:  The Sun-Herald, March 11, 2007 

Here is another source of information around bizarre behaviors while apparently asleep: Accessed August 2, 2012.

There are a number of court cases sighting unusual and uncommon activities being undertaken by people under the influence of sleeping pills, where they have done illegal things, but claim not to have remembered them.

14.  Some sleeping pills are associated with increased risk of depression.

“Data for 5535 patients randomized to a hypnotic and for 2318 randomized to placebo were compiled. The incidence of depression was 2.0% among participants randomized to hypnotics as compared to 0.9% among those randomized in parallel to placebo (p < 0.002).”

“Modern hypnotics were associated with an increased incidence of depression in data released by the FDA. This suggests that when there is a risk of depression, hypnotics may be contra-indicated.” Source:  Kripke Daniel F. Greater incidence of depression with hypnotic use than with placebo.  Accessed August 2, 2012.

15.  Sleeping pills have been associated with a four-fold risk of death and increased rates of cancer for people taking large amounts per year.

Source:  British Medical Journal’s Open journal February 28, 2012.

16.  Some sleeping pills can change your perception of your sleep, for perceived benefits.

“Most sleeping pills work on the same brain receptors as drugs to treat anxiety. By reducing anxiety, the pills may make people worry less about not going to sleep. So they feel better.”

Source:  As 11 and 12 above.  New York Times October 23, 2007

17.  Most sleep medications affect people’s memories.

“Another theory about the discrepancy between measured sleep and perceived sleep involves a condition called anterograde amnesia. While under the influence of most sleep medications, people have trouble forming memories. When they wake up, they may simply forget they had trouble sleeping.”  Source:  As 11, 12 and 17 above. New York Times October 23, 2007

Excuse me for being a little cynical about that one.

18.  Patients are demanding them of doctors.

Doctors are concerned that patients are demanding they prescribe sleeping pills, and indicate that if they do not prescribe them, they will seek out prescriptions from other sources.

This is making it difficult for the doctors.

The blame shifts here to the ‘patients’ who willingly, negligently or irresponsibly take prescribed medications in ways that do not EXACTLY adhere to the rulings and paperwork that are supplied with every prescription.  (We are aware that some medications are being used for recreational purposes, which we will not be detailing here except to say that it could be very dangerous.  Please seek professional help today if this is your story.)

19.  Because they are addictive, sleeping pills have withdrawal symptoms.

The reported withdrawal symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • unusual dreams
    sleeping pills are addictive Sleep Medications are Addictive
  • sweating
  • shakiness
  • fatigue
  • rebound insomnia
  • unusual depressed or anxious mood
  • stomach cramps
  • vomiting
  • sweating
  • fatigue, and/or
  • irritability

Please note that not all these withdrawal symptoms relate to each different sleeping pill variety, the symptoms are randomly selected from a range of reports on sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms.

20.  Sleeping pills have been linked to impaired driving and sleep driving.

One sleeping pill ranks among the top 10 drugs found in the bloodstreams of impaired drivers, according to some US state toxicology labs.

e.g. In Washington state there were 78 arrested in 2005 for impaired driving, an increase of 40 percent from 2004.

Mixing these drugs with alcohol has very adverse effects:

“The behavior can include driving in the wrong direction or slamming into light poles or parked vehicles, as well as seeming oblivious to the arresting officers, according to a presentation last month at a meeting of forensic scientists.” Source: “Some Sleeping Pill Users Range Far Beyond Bed”, Stephanie Saul, March 8, 2006. Accessed August 2, 2012.

“People get up, they take their car keys and they go drive. As you might imagine, that might be potentially dangerous to the patient and others as well.”  Source:  FDA Warns of Sleeping Pills’ Strange Effects, New York Times March 8, 2006 Accessed August 2, 2012.

“These bizarre occurrences have become so common, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences held a presentation on the odd effects of xxx* impairment on the body.”  (xxx*  A named sleeping pill)

21.  Sleeping pills are respiratory depressants and can exacerbate sleep apnea and related illnesses.

Sleeping pills should not be used if you have sleep apnea.

Sleeping pills, like alcohol, might prevent the necessary momentary arousals necessary to resume breathing in sleep apnea sufferers.

Source:  Power Sleep, Dr James D Maas, page 91 and 117.

22.  Sleeping pills have been associated with increased fall and fracture rates in elderly people.

Source:  Zolpidem use and hip fractures in older people. Wang PS, Bohn RL et al Accessed July 27, 2012.

 23.  ” Sleeping pills may help you fall asleep, but will not help you get all the way to Stage 5.”

Stage 5 sleep, as described by the National Prescribing Service (below) is the rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep) that occurs just before waking  up at the end of a normal and beneficial night’s sleep.

“To feel fully rested, you need to spend a lot of time in Stage 5. This stage is also known as REM sleep and it’s where dreaming and deep sleep occur.”  Accessed September 13, 2012.

We have a slightly different idea about what is regarded as ‘deep sleep’ (see quote above) – it is not the REM part of the sleep, but the slower brain wave patterned parts of the sleep cycles.  However, we agree that the value of REM sleep, especially the part before waking up, is huge.  We have seen REM sleep associated with problem solving (very important for people suffering from anxiety and depression issues).

Grogginess can be felt because of the half-life or because of sleep inertia Grogginess in the Morning

Waking up out of REM sleep at the end of a ‘normal’ night’s sleep is also very beneficial because it generally means there is no ‘sleep inertia’ – that groggy feeling that you get when you wake up from slow wave sleep and feel disoriented and half asleep for a little while.  REM sleep usually occurs and typifies the lighter phases of sleep.

What might have been meant by referring to this Stage 5 as “deep sleep”, is that it takes all night to get there – you just can’t ‘click into’ the elongated REM sleep stage at the end of a good nights sleep without cycling through the brain wave patterns of a normal night’s sleep beforehand.

The benefits of this last stage of sleep include dreaming, the welding of the brain’s learning network or potentiation, memory improvement,  the sharpening of spatial abilities and perception, and the brainpower to execute complex tasks.  REM also has a role in emotional memories and helps uncouple associations that are no longer productive.  (Source:  Take a Nap, Change Your Life.  Dr Sara C Mednick, Workman Publishing Company, chapter 4.)

We know that waking up too early has been associated with feelings of depression and grief.  There is some question as to “which causes which”.  i.e.  Does the the lack of the last stage of sleep (Stage 5) cause the psychological difficulties of depression and grief, or vice verse – the psychological problems changing the sleep pattern to bring on early awakening?

What happens with some sleeping pills (SSRIs and some antidepressants) is that they prolong the time spent in Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) therefore inhibiting the time spent in REM at the end of the night.  Accessed September 13, 2012.

(Further research is required here in relation to depression and bipolar disorder.)

24.  While some sleeping pills prolong the time in slow wave sleep and reduce the time spent in REM (see 23 above), other sleeping pills (such as benzodiazepines) inhibit the time spent in SWS and cause sleepers to have lighter sleep generally – or sleep spent in the higher brain wave patterns – such as REM.  Accessed September 13, 2012.

SWS is associated with healing your body; bone and muscle growth; tissue restoration; protein synthesis; carbohydrate and fat metabolism (including cholesterol); decreasing stress anxiety and the susceptibility to illness; the production of milk in new mothers, etc.  Meanwhile our brains and the firing rate of neurons drops dramatically, and other activities that look like pruning mental deadwood and clearing your mind are carried out, and declarative memory is strengthened.  Stage 3 and 4 are both regarded as SWS, but stage 4 is the deepest sleep level.

Warning, again – do not withdraw without medical supervision.  Please seek expert medical assistance to reduce or withdraw from any medications.


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