Saleep medications (also called hypnotics) are a class of psychoactive drugs that facilitate the induction and maintenance of sleep. They are not meant to be used as the sole treatment for insomnia, but rather as part of a comprehensive approach that includes nonmedical strategies and treatment of any comorbidities. Although they are widely used, the fundamental questions regarding how they facilitate sleep remain largely unanswered. In particular, it is unclear whether they recapitulate the normal physiology of sleep or if they only manipulate certain aspects of sleep.
Navigating the Landscape of Prescription Sleep Medications: Benefits, Risks, and Considerations
There are several sleep medications available with a prescription, including melatonin, lemborexant (Dayvigo), ramelteon (Rozerem), and zolpidem (Ambien). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that melatonin be used only for short periods because it can cause next-day drowsiness. In addition, it may interact with other medications and supplements, especially those that affect the immune system, such as antidepressants and antibiotics.
Many over-the-counter sleep aids and dietary supplements contain sedating antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or doxylamine (Unisom). These drugs may help people fall asleep but tend to leave them feeling groggy the next day. In contrast, the prescription medication melatonin has been shown to improve sleep quality and is not habit forming. Insomnia is one of the most common symptoms for which adults seek medical advice. It can be difficult to treat, especially in older adults who have developed a tolerance to sedative medications and are more likely to become physically dependent on habit-forming sleep medications.